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50+: Live Better, Longer

Conquering Fear of Falling

Stop the Drop
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Take Charge of Your Physical Condition

Don't accept physical limitations as inevitable with older age. Increase and manage your mobility by:

  • Correcting vision problems: Keep your eyeglass prescription updated with regular eye exams, and get treatment for cataracts and glaucoma.
  • Using drugs cautiously: Alcohol, sedatives, and sleeping pills, and some cold remedies and antidepressants, can impair your ability to react. Ask your doctor whether your drugs or drug combinations have these side effects and what you can do to minimize them.
  • Building strength: If your leg muscles are so weak you can't get up from a chair without using your hands, you're at greater risk of falling. "Weight training can improve strength at any age," says Michael Rogers, MD, director of the Center for Physical Activity and Aging at Wichita State University in Kansas. He knows of two people in one retirement community who regained sufficient strength and balance to put away their walkers.
  • Improving balance and gait: "You should be able to stand on one foot for 10 seconds," says Rogers. Practice standing on one foot while working at the sink or, if you feel confident enough, walking along a curb as though it's a balance beam. Some balance problems, such as inner ear disorders, require medical attention. But many can be improved by physical therapy, or through activities such as tai chi or yoga.

Boost Your Bone Strength

"Today we have a nice array of ways to make bones stronger," says Vandenberg. He recommends:

  • Getting enough calcium (1,500 milligrams for women; 1,200 for men) and vitamin D (800 units) every day.
  • Estrogen replacement for most women, based on other health factors. Ask your doctor about this.
  • Weight-bearing exercise.
  • Bone-building medication, calcitonin, and bisphosphonates for anyone losing bone density. Ask your doctor about this one, too.

Clearly, it requires effort to reduce environmental risks and take charge of your physical condition. But these self-defense strategies give you a measure of control in lowering your risk for falling and falling injuries.

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