Good balance is a result of the visual, vestibular (inner ear) and sensory systems working together. The eyes, inner ear and sensory organs in our feet and legs are constantly sending messages to our brain about how we are moving. The brain then sends instructions to our muscles on how we should move and respond to changes in our environment.
As we age, our ability to react quickly to these changes is affected by decreased vision, decreased vestibular signals, decreased sensation in our feet, and decreased reaction time. Our decreased ability to respond to physical changes can ultimately result in taking a fall.
A fall can have serious consequences:
- Physical injury
- Loss of confidence and increased anxiety
- Loss of social contacts
- Loss of independence and decreased quality of life
Personal Risk Assessment
Take a moment to review the following questions. For any question that results in a “yes” answer, you should consider making changes that can reduce your risk for injury due to a fall.
Balance and Mobility
- Have you fallen two or more times in the past six months?
- Do you take short shuffle steps, trip or catch your toe when walking?
- Do you have trouble getting in and out of a chair/bathtub?
- Do you have trouble with standing or walking without having something to hold on to?
- Do you have trouble reaching overhead or picking up items from the floor?
- Do you have difficulty getting up from the floor without help?
- Do you take four or more medications including prescription, nonprescription sleep or allergy medications?
- Do you drink alcohol while on medication or drink more than one alcoholic drink per day?
- Do you feel dizzy when you get up from a bed or chair?
- Do you have any vision problems or trouble when going from a brightly lit area to a dark area?
- Do you have any problems with your hearing?
- Do you have any health conditions that cause pain, numbness or weakness in your legs or feet?
Risky Behaviors and Habits
- Do you climb onto furniture when you need to reach something?
- Do you move heavy items by yourself?
- Do you wear floppy/open heeled slippers or poorly fitting shoes, shoes higher than an inch, or slick bottomed shoes?
- Do you wear long pants or a bathrobe that drags on the ground?
- Do you try to do more than one thing when moving around?
- Do you rush to get things done?
- Do you avoid asking for help when needed?
- Do you continue to do things even if you are tired or feeling ill?
- Do you have any environmental hazards in or outside of your home that need to be changed or repaired?
Improving Your Safety
Following are some helpful suggestions for reducing your risk of injury due to a fall. Please follow up with your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you have.
Balance and Mobility
- Ask your health care provider to refer you to physical therapy to work on improving your balance, strength, and walking; get instruction in the use of adaptive equipment.
- Avoid sitting on soft, low furniture; choose firm chairs with armrests.
- Consider using equipment like grab bars near the bathtub and toilet, a raised toilet seat, a bath bench in the tub/shower, hand held shower head, and non-skid mats.
- Consider using adaptive equipment for dressing and bathing. Ask your health care provider to refer you to occupational or physical therapy.
- Get instruction in the use of a cane or walker.
- Keep frequently used items within easy reach.
- Have a plan in place in case you do fall. Learn how to get up safely. Always keep a cordless phone with you or consider getting Life Line assistance.
Medications / Medical Conditions
- Ask your health provider to review all medications you are taking for possible side effects, drug interactions, and to make sure they are still right for you.
- Ask your provider to check your blood pressure while lying down and standing. Stop and pause for a minute when changing positions to allow your blood pressure to adjust.
- Have your vision checked annually. Keep your glasses clean. Allow your eyes to adjust when changing from bright light to dim light.
- Have your hearing checked annually as sometimes dizziness can occur with hearing loss.
- Ask your provider to assess any problems with pain, numbness or weakness in your legs and feet. Ask for a referral to physical therapy
Risky Behaviors and Habits
- Avoid climbing on to furniture to reach something. Ask for help or use a safe step stool with a wide step and handle.
- Ask for help when moving items. Always use good body mechanics.
- Wear properly fitting, low-healed shoes with a good sole that does not stick or slip on surfaces.
- Avoid clothing that is too long and can drag on the ground.
- Take your time when changing positions, moving around, or doing tasks.
- Be aware of your surroundings and environment.
- Avoid doing more than one thing at a time.
- Pace your activity and rest when tired. You are more at risk to fall when fatigued or not feeling well.
- Repair or remove environmental hazards inside or outside of your home.