Staying Active Can Help Prevent Falls

Video: Ellen Harvey, R.N., with Carilion Clinic Trauma Services provides fall prevention tips for seniors.

As people age, physical changes and health conditions make falls more likely, but this doesn't mean people should become less active or be afraid to start living an active lifestyle.

"My advice is to always keep moving," said Ellen Harvey, R.N., D.N.P., a clinical nurse specialist with Carilion Clinic Trauma Services. "Physical activity can go a long way toward fall prevention."

Falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults. In fact, according to research conducted by the Yale University School of Medicine, one out of every three Americans 65 years and older falls at least once a year, with 10 percent fracturing a bone, dislocating a joint, or incurring some other serious injury.

While those kinds of numbers can be scary to think about, there are ways you can protect yourself from taking a bad fall. It starts inside your home.

"Take a look around your house and remove any obvious hazards," Harvey said. "This means tucking away any loose wires or cords from areas where you often walk, securing area rugs with padding, not piling or storing items on stairs, and making sure your home has good lighting. Also, some of the most common falls we see in trauma services are from standing up or falling on stairs. It's important to take your time getting your balance and always using handrails when climbing up or down stairs."

Another area where people often fall is in the bathroom. Consider installing hand rails in the bathtub or shower and next to the toilet. Also place a slip-proof mat in the bathtub or shower.

"While making simple changes in your home can help prevent falls, a person's health may have more to do with how frequently they fall or hurt themselves," Harvey said.

Weak muscles, poor vision, and medications can comprise balance and put you at a higher risk for falling.

"People should ask their doctors about the medications they are taking and if any could possibly make them dizzy or impair their sense of balance," Harvey said.

"Doctors can often adjust dosages or change medications to prevent these types of side effects."

Maintaining muscle strength is also an important step in preventing falls.

"With your doctor's permission, consider low-impact exercises, such as walking, water aerobics, or tai chi," Harvey said.

Tai chi is a calm form of Chinese martial arts, which has been shown to reduce fall frequency because it promotes balance and strength.

The key to being safe while being active is wearing proper shoes. Make sure your shoes not only fit well, but also have good traction to help prevent you from slipping.

While falls may not always be avoidable, you can better prepare yourself by also keeping your bones as healthy as possible.

"Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet can keep your bones strong,' Harvey said. 'It can also make a difference in how a person recovers after a fall."

If you think you are at risk for falling, talk with your healthcare provider about the best ways to protect yourself. Don't be scared to speak up or make changes to your daily routine.

"If older adults stay active rather than sedentary, they will do much better later in life," Harvey said. "It's never too late to start being active and living healthy."