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November 28, 2022 • read
10 tips to prevent falls at home
Everybody falls at some point — it’s an inevitable part of life. However, not everyone can get back up again afterwards. It turns out that falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations for both the under-14 and the over-65 set.
Most falls tend to happen at home, and injury, long-term disability, a decline in health, and even death are some of the very real consequences they can bring on. This makes fall prevention a key part of safeguarding your health.
If you’ve been experiencing falls and aren’t sure if your medication or health condition is the culprit, Maple can help. Maple is a telehealth provider that connects you with Canadian-licensed doctors from your phone, tablet, or computer within minutes.
Here are some things that put you at risk of falls, and how to prevent falls at home.
Which medical conditions cause falls?
A number of things can cause falls, but many of them are attributable to specific medical conditions. Anything that affects your balance, strength, or coordination can contribute, but these aren’t the only reasons.
In older people, falls are often the result of multiple causes compounded by age-related declines in cardiovascular health, gait stability, and balance. Together, these conditions challenge the body’s ability to maintain postural stability.
Falls can also occur from simple changes in perception brought on by fever, dehydration, or being in an unfamiliar environment.
Vision and hearing problems
Vision and hearing problems affect your sensory input. Combine these with an aging central nervous system, a decrease in neurons, and neurotransmitter depletion, and you have a recipe for reduced postural control.
As a result, conditions like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration can put you at risk of falling. But, even slight visual impairment can leave you guessing where one step begins, and another ends. Losing your depth perception and contrast sensitivity, being unable to adapt to darkness, and — unexpectedly — using multifocal lenses can all up your risk of falling.
Improperly managed diabetes
Diabetes can also affect your vision, leaving you vulnerable to slips and falls. However, the disease also attacks your peripheral nerves — especially in your feet. This can contribute to a loss of sensation, leading to unwanted spills.
Insulin and other diabetic medications aren’t a guaranteed fix for this as they have the potential to cause issues. In some instances, these medications can decrease your blood sugar too much — a condition known as hypoglycemia. This can result in blurred vision, drowsiness, loss of balance, and even fainting, potentially increasing your risk of falls.
Irregular heart rhythm and sudden drops in blood pressure are just some of the symptoms associated with heart disease. These can come on suddenly, making you feel light-headed, dizzy, and faint, leaving you vulnerable to taking a nosedive.
Strokes, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS) all come with higher fall rates. Responsible for wide-ranging effects on the body, these disorders can cause changes in gait, difficulties with muscle coordination, and reduced strength, among others.
Which medications increase your risk of falling?
Beyond illnesses and medical conditions, certain medications or taking medications improperly, also trigger falls — and not just in the elderly or infirm. Here are some of the most common.
Antidepressants are some of the most commonly prescribed medications in North America. While effective as a tool to counteract depression, one of their lesser-known side effects is how they contribute to an increased risk of falling, especially in older adults.
Antidepressants can cause orthostatic hypotension — a sudden drop in blood pressure when standing or sitting, often resulting in dizziness or lightheadedness.
On top of that, hyponatremia, or a change in sodium levels in the body, is a risk factor with certain types of antidepressants. This can contribute to movement disorders that produce changes in your gait or result in a tremor.
As sedatives, both sleep aids and benzodiazepines like lorazepam and clonazepam can turn into fall hazards. These medications affect your level of consciousness, rendering you less alert when you take them. This makes you more likely to trip, slip, or tumble while you’re on them.
Anti-hypertensive medications are a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to fall risk. Their efficacy in keeping blood pressure under control means they may reduce your chances of falling, as hypertension is a risk factor.
Conversely, they may cause an excessive drop in blood pressure or slow your heart rate down too much. This can leave you feeling light-headed or dizzy. More severely, blood pressure medications can cause orthostatic hypotension. They may also impair cerebral perfusion — the supply of blood to the brain. In both instances, this can precipitate fainting, potentially contributing to accidents.
10 tips for preventing falls and reducing injury from falls
Your home is one of the most common places for falls to occur. But, making some intentional changes can go a long way towards lowering the probability of injury at home. This is especially important for the elderly as fall prevention is crucial for safeguarding their health.
1. Talk to your doctor
If you’re worried that your medications or health conditions are upping your risk for a fall, speaking to a doctor on Maple can help. During your consultation, your doctor can advise you on your fall risk, and help you consider which steps to take next.
2. Make time for physical activity
Balance and strength training exercises are the physical activities most recommended to prevent falls. Tai chi, weight training, balancing on one leg, shifting your weight from foot to foot, and repeatedly standing on your tippy toes are all great ways of increasing your steadiness and equilibrium.
As with any new practice, however, speak to your healthcare provider before beginning. If you’re worried about falling, they may recommend a few sessions with a physical therapist to help ease you into the new routine. Alternatively, you can enlist the help of a workout buddy or start with exercises from a chair.
3. Keep your home clean and remove fall hazards
While knick-knacks and carpets might make your home feel cozy, too much stuff can increase the possibility of tripping, especially at night.
Repair or remove tripping hazards indoors and out, including damaged steps or rugs with corners that stick up, as these can easily catch your foot. Any carpet without a non-slip rug pad underneath it is also a potential fall hazard and should be secured.
Beyond that, light up your living spaces to illuminate your surroundings and any hazards. Poor lighting at nighttime can be risky when you’re groggy and disoriented. Consider installing nightlights for some extra help navigating down the hallway to the bathroom at night.
4. Wear the right footwear
Some of the best fall prevention strategies are also the simplest, and good shoes top the list. The best shoes to prevent slips and falls have a flat, grippy sole like a running shoe.
If difficulty getting your shoes on makes you shy away from running shoes, consider getting a slip-on pair or investing in a long shoe horn for help. Shoes that help prevent falls should have a means of containing your foot — that means no flip-flops or backless slip-ons.
5. Explore assistive devices and walking aids
Walking aids like canes and walkers can provide additional support and help with balance when you need it. If falling during walking is a concern, they’re a must.
For your home, pay special attention to your stairs and bathrooms, as this is where falls are most likely to happen. Non-slip bath mats are a great safeguard in the bathroom when it comes to safely getting in and out of the shower. And grab bars are a must both there and next to the toilet if you have trouble standing and sitting. For stairs, adding a second handrail to your staircase can help improve safety and provide extra support.
Assistive devices aren’t just for the elderly either — safety gates at the bottom and top of stairs will keep toddlers and younger children off the steps, potentially saving them a tumble down.
6. Keep your bones strong
Osteoporosis contributes to reduced skeletal mass and overall frailty, making it an important factor in falls in the elderly. Not only that, but if you have osteoporosis and experience a fall, you’re more likely to fracture your bones.
To maintain bone health and stave off the worst effects of this condition, make exercising, incorporating plenty of calcium, and adding a vitamin D supplement into your diet a priority.
7. Get enough sleep
Not getting enough sleep affects your cognition. Sleep deprivation slows your reaction time, reduces alertness, and causes poor decision-making. Control this risk factor for falls by aiming for seven to nine quality hours of shut-eye every night.
8. Stay inside if there’s bad weather
It’s hard to stay cooped up inside all winter, but your risk of falls increases significantly once there’s snow and ice. Just wandering down the driveway to get the mail can be problematic if you’re not careful.
While it’s best to avoid the worst weather, at the very least, stay in until the sidewalks are cleared and salted. If you go out, counteract some of your risk of slipping by wearing footwear with great tread.
9. Keep your hands free when walking
Whether you’re two or 92, walking with your hands full isn’t a great idea. Even the fittest person can get thrown off balance if they’re carrying too much. And, when you’re focusing on the weight in your hands, you’re less likely to see the tripping hazard in your way.
If you can avoid it, steer clear of carrying anything up or down the stairs. But, if you have to lug a bunch of stuff around, take only a couple of items at a time. It’s a safer bet than risking one trip and taking a tumble.
10. Avoid or limit alcohol consumption
While a glass of wine from time to time can be relaxing, drinking too much can contribute to injuries. Alcohol use doesn’t just impair your judgment, it can also affect your coordination and balance. Moreover, excess alcohol consumption can lead to a decrease in density and a weakening of your bones.
To lower your risk of a fall, your best bet is to avoid or limit the amount of booze you drink. As an added bonus, you’ll avoid a killer hangover caused by dehydration, which also contributes to falls.
What to do if you fall
Despite your best efforts, falls can still happen. If you do fall, first and foremost, try to stay calm and assess your situation. Check if you’re hurt anywhere and if you’re capable of getting up. If you can, roll onto your side and slowly bring yourself to all fours.
From there, find a solid piece of furniture or a stair to hold onto and push yourself up. Once up, take a moment to sit down and scan yourself for injury.
If you can’t get up, call for help however you’re able, whether using your phone, emergency device, or attracting attention by yelling or banging something on the floor or ground. You should also try to stay comfortable while you’re waiting for help.
How Maple can help prevent falls
Falls can have serious consequences, and it’s understandable to be afraid of taking a tumble. However, many of the risk factors surrounding these injuries are manageable. If you’ve recently had a fall or you’re concerned about having one, you might benefit from speaking to a doctor.
Your doctor can advise you on your fall risk, which may include looking into any health conditions or medications. Reach out to speak to a doctor today and take a confident step toward fall prevention.
This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional.