How to Prevent Falls at Home

Falls aren’t good for anyone. But it’s extra important to avoid accidents if you have osteoporosis or if you've got low bone density, also called osteopenia. Because your bones are weaker, they can break more easily if you fall.

If you’re 65 or older, know that 1 in 3 adults in this age group falls every year -- and the odds go up with each decade. Take the right steps, though, and you can protect yourself.

Make Your Home Safe

About half of all falls happen at home, but the hazards that cause them are easy to spot and fix.

1. Clear your walkways and stairs. Shoes, books, and low decorative items (such as vases and baskets) are examples of things you could trip over.

2. Use an adhesive to keep your rugs down. You may want to get rid of small throw rugs, which can slip easily and cause you to fall.

3. Put non-slip mats in the bottom of your bathtub or on the floor of your shower. Wet surfaces are always dangerous.

4. Put handrails on your staircases, and use them. You may want to have grab bars put in your shower stall and next to your toilet.

5. Make sure your house is well-lit. Turn the lights on whenever you plan to be in a room or walkway -- even if you’re just passing through. Keep a flashlight with new batteries near your bed, too.

6. Keep items you use often (like cooking supplies) in low, easy-to-reach places. You’re more likely to fall if you have to reach for something up high or use a stool.

7. Don’t walk around in slippers, stockings, or socks. Avoid going barefoot, too. Instead, wear low-heeled, comfortable shoes with rubber soles. They can keep you from slipping on slick surfaces like tile and wood floors.

8. If the sidewalk is wet or it might be icy, walk on the grass. Even if you’re not sure, don’t take the chance.

9. If it’s dim or dark outside, turn the lights on before you walk. Leave them on if it will be dark when you get back home.

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10. Sprinkle salt or kitty litter on slippery or icy sidewalks. This’ll give you more traction and help you avoid slipping.

11. If you need to, use a cane or walker. If your doctor says it’s a good idea, take his advice. And listen to your body if you’re feeling unstable.

12. Check the curb height before you step up onto or down from a sidewalk. Surprises can lead to falls, so be prepared.

Staying Healthy Can Help

Make these good habits part of your routine:

1. Be active. Exercise makes your muscles stronger. It’s important to strengthen your legs and your core (your back and stomach). If you’re new to exercise or have trouble with balance, think about seeing a physical therapist. You might also consider workouts that improve balance and strength, like tai chi and yoga.

2. Be mindful of your medications. Some blood pressure drugs, heart medicine, water pills, muscle relaxers, sleeping pills, and other medicines can make you dizzy or drowsy, which could cause a fall. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about all the medications and supplements you take, and how to manage them. Taken together, some can lead to sleepiness and other problems they wouldn’t cause if taken alone.

3. Get your eyes checked every year. Bad vision makes it hard to get around safely. Wearing glasses or contacts with the right prescription can help you see clearly and avoid accidents.

4. Get enough calcium and vitamin D. These slow bone loss, which can make fractures less likely. If you’re a woman over 50, you need 1,200 milligrams of calcium every day, and at least 600 international units of vitamin D daily. If you’re a man over 50, you need 1,000 milligrams  of calcium and 600 international units of D daily. Talk to your doctor about how to reach those numbers.

5. Don’t rush. Hurrying to do things like answer the phone or use the bathroom makes it more likely you’ll fall. Take your time.

6. Go easy on alcohol. It can slow your reflexes and make it harder for you to keep your balance. It can also make you feel dizzy or sleepy, and affect your judgment, as well as make some medicines work differently, or not as well.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on February 17, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Cameron, I., BMJ, February 2002.

Harvard Medical School: "Osteopenia: When you have weak bones, but not osteoporosis."

CDC: "Preventing Falls Among Older Adults," "What You Can Do to Prevent Falls."

Jane W. McCabe, occupational therapist and certified aging-in-place specialist, Orange County, CA.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "What Are Ways to Prevent Falls and Related Fractures?"

National Institute on Aging: "Osteoporosis: Improving Your Bone Health."

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