Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones
There are a number of reasons why your risk for falls increases as you get older, from medication to vision problems or even obstacles in your home. Fortunately, there are precautions you can take to reduce your fall risk.
Increased Risk for Falls
“When a patient tells me they’ve had issues with dizziness or have experienced a fall, the first thing I focus on is their medications,” says Sara E. Padalik, DO, a physiatrist at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine. “The side effects of certain drugs can cause dizziness or sleepiness. Certain medications can also affect the blood pressure, which can have the same result.”
Besides medication, other health-related conditions can also increase your risk for falls:
- Hypoglycemia. This condition, which occurs when your blood sugar level drops too low, can cause dizziness. If you have been diagnosed with hypoglycemia, be sure to stay hydrated and test your blood sugar throughout the day so you maintain a healthy level.
- Hypotension. Also known as low blood pressure, this condition can result in fainting, dizziness or lightheadedness. Heart conditions that cause low blood pressure include heart valve problems, heart attack and heart failure. Some suggestions include getting up from a lying position slowly, staying hydrated and avoiding alcohol.
- Poor vision. Age-related eye problems can occur after the age of 60. Depth perception can impact your balance, so be sure to have your vision tested at your annual physical. If you detect any vision issues, consult an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
- Improperly fitted orthopaedic support. If you don’t have the appropriate equipment, your body is going to try to overcompensate. If you need orthopaedic support, make sure it’s properly fitted. Do stretches and exercises recommended by your physician to prevent muscle weakness.
How to Change Your Environment
In addition to addressing any medical issues, Dr. Padalik suggests going through each room in your house to identify clutter, obstacles or unsafe locations that may increase your risk for falls. To help, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a comprehensive checklist for you to follow.
The keys areas to work on include:
- Bathroom. Many falls occur in the bathroom, so be sure to use non-slip mats on shower floors, and grab bars in and around the bathtub. Be sure the hall leading to your bathroom has proper lighting. And, for patients transitioning back home from the hospital, a bedside commode or urinal might be necessary.
- Kitchen. Put frequently used items within reach.
- Bedroom. Remove throw rugs and clutter on the floors. Install appropriate lighting, including lights within reach near the bed.
- Stairways. Make sure carpeting is secure and stairwell is well-lit. Install handrails if needed.
The Importance of Rehabilitation in Preventing Falls
Your fall risk is higher after a hospitalization, especially if you have had a stroke or concussion, as your functionality may not be the same. Dr. Padalik says that while you’re in the hospital, your care team will begin educating you about falls and how to reduce your risk. There, your physician may schedule you for physical or occupational therapy. During these sessions, you’ll work with a therapist who will provide specific training to help you return home safely. If additional rehabilitation is necessary, they may suggest a post-acute care setting.
In an inpatient rehabilitation setting like Marianjoy, families are encouraged to be a part of the rehabilitation process. “A patient’s functional level will change as they continue to recover. At Marianjoy, we encourage families to be part of the patient’s rehabilitation program. Family education days are also part of the process, where they’ll spend time working together one-on-one to get you ready for home,” says Dr. Padalik. Providers may also suggest a home assessment, which will help your family tailor the home to better accommodate you before for your arrival.
Once you return home, you or your loved one should continue to progress. “The brain and body are still healing, even after they’re home,” says Dr. Padalik. She suggests another home assessment if you find yourself needing to make additional modifications over time.
“Falls can have detrimental effects, no matter your age or medical condition,” she says. “Many falls are preventable. Our goal is to give patients and families the tools to be successful that will offer the best quality of life possible.”