November is a particularly special month when it comes to the health of older adults, as it is Fall Prevention Month! While falls are not something that a lot of us like to dwell on, they are incredibly important to take notice of and help to prevent whenever possible. To start, have you heard of the fall cycle, and how to break it?
- 1 in 3 older adults will fall each year, and an older adult who falls is three times more likely to fall again.
- When falls occur, we tend to enter what is called the fall cycle. After a fall occurs, we typically become afraid of falling again. As a result, we want to stay away from activities that we believe will increase our fall risk, thereby decreasing our activity level.
- When this happens, our overall health will start to decline, showing decreased strength, coordination, and balance – all of which are very important for preventing falls.
- As such, our risk of falls increases and we enter the fall cycle.
The good news is that there is a way to break the cycle – exercise! Through exercise, we gain strength and overall fitness, resulting in improved physical function and performance. This can lead to avoidance of disability and improved well-being. By participating in this cycle that revolves around exercise (and education) we can break the cycle of the fall! But what are some specific things we can do to decrease our chance of a fall?
Healthy Lifestyle and Nutrition
- Approximately 75% of diseases are lifestyle related with poor nutrition being one of the leading causes (ex. diabetes and high blood pressure among others).
- Poor nutrition and dehydration can also lead to symptoms that can increase our fall risk, including dizziness, fatigue, and reduced physical activity.
- Food should be your primary source for nutrients. Focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as opposed to refined sugar, excess sodium, and processed foods.
- Calcium and Vitamin D are in particular important for the strength of our muscles and bones.
Exercise and Muscle Bone Health
- Walking, balance, and strength training are all great activities for our muscles, but having a variety is key.
- Strength training – sometimes known as resistance training means you are building muscle by using resistance, which can come from our body weight, free weights or hand weights, weight machines, bands, water bottles, you name it – anything that is going to help your muscles contract and give them something to work against.
Home and Environment Safety
We may not even realize it, but there are a variety of risk factors in our homes that could lead to a fall or other serious injury. The good news however, is that with a few modifications these can be easily avoided! First and foremost, we should always pay attention to our surroundings. Whether we’re just walking around our homes or taking a few things out of storage- we always want to have a clear view of where we are going to be walking. Some examples of items or issues around our homes that are relatively easy to fix include:
- Rugs – We can slip on these if they’re not secured to the ground or trip if the corners are coming up
- Cords or wiring– Stepping on these if they are on the floor could cause us to lose our balance and if they are hanging from a wall, they can become a tripping hazard
- Pet dishes, throw pillows, knitting yarn, books, any kind of hobby, is better suited to be stored neatly on a table rather than sprawled on the ground
- Poor lighting can result in us not being able to see where we’re walking or what hazards may present themselves
- Loose slippers/ shoes/ loose fitting clothing in general can all be unnecessary fall risks as well
There are lots of changes to our feet that occur as we age, and as such it’s important to take good care of our feet regularly. Some of the major criteria for a well-fitting shoe include:
- a proper anatomical fit
- well-fitting toe box
- limited heel height
- a firm insole and midsole
- an outsole with sufficient tread
- and an easy and effective closing mechanism such as Velcro or shoelaces.
By being mindful of what we eat and drink, the variety of exercises we perform, the potential hazards that present in our home, and what a well-fitting shoe should have, we can set ourselves up for success! One in three older adults falls each year, but we don’t have to be one of them if we prioritize our health!