Falls make an impact
10/30/2023 by Paul Takahashi, M.D.
Falls are a common problem and become more problematic as you become older. Winter is more than just flu and cold season; it's also fall and injury season. People start to walk like a penguin with arms out to the side, taking small shuffling steps with their toes pointed out. It's a hard-learned survival "dance" for preventing those slip-slide falls on ice and snow.
Falls happen quickly either inside the home or outside. One minute you're vertical, and the next you're on the ground or floor. Injuries are the third cause of death in the U.S., and many of those injuries are due to falls.
Those most at risk for falls are kids, older adults and people who have fallen before. The consequences of falls range from minor bumps and bruises to major injuries that could lead to losing your independence — or even death.
We don't have medications or surgeries that prevent falls. However, you can improve your balance and muscle strength or reduce trip hazards.
Tackle trip hazards
- Get rid of clutter, particularly on floors.
- Pack away throw rugs.
- Make sure you've got good, effective lighting.
- Ensure steps and floors are in good repair.
- Have an occupational therapist perform a home evaluation to see what hazards could trip you up.
- You also can slip-proof your body. It's all a matter of strength and balance.
Activity builds strength, even simple activities like getting up out of a chair. It's even something you can work on at home with little or no equipment. Walking and aerobic exercise are good options for strength and health.
This exercise strengthens your "sitters and standers" — quadriceps and hamstrings. Choose a stable chair with good arms. Sit and then stand 10 times. Repeat this exercise twice per day. As you get stronger, use your arms less. You can find printable instructions here.
Stand next to your kitchen table or counter. Stabilize yourself for support. Start with your feet together. Gradually work on putting one foot more forward, then putting one foot in front of the other — like you're standing on a beam. As you progress, use the table less for support.
You can do this every day while you're brushing your teeth. Stand on one foot for one minute. Then stand on the other foot.
Yoga or tai chi
If you're interested, sign up for a yoga or tai chi class at a gym, community center or through community education.
You can learn more about preventing falls on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Patient & Caregiver Resources webpage. Also, talk with your primary care clinician to learn if any of your medications could affect your balance or if you could benefit from physical therapy to improve your strength, balance or the way you walk.
Paul Takahashi, M.D., is an internal medicine physician in the Division of Community Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Care. He practices in the Baldwin building in Rochester. His interests include geriatric medicine, long-term and nursing home care, and public health.