Monday Medical: Don’t let falls take you down |

Monday Medical: Don’t let falls take you down

Mary Gay Broderick
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Falling doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of aging, especially with some simple ways to make a house and daily habits safer.

“Many adults 65 and older associate falling as a normal part of aging, but it’s not,” said Kathryn Snyder, an occupational therapist at UCHealth SportsMed Clinic in Steamboat Springs. “Fall prevention is manageable if we take the right steps.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 36 million falls are reported annually among older Americans, sending 3 million to the hospital emergency room and resulting in 32,000 deaths, with women falling more often than men.

Factors associated with aging that make seniors more susceptible to falls include decreased strength, problems with vision, trouble with balance and taking medication that may have side effects, such as drowsiness.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to keep moving while staying safe.

“We want people to stay engaged and keep doing the things they enjoy,” said Snyder. “A fear of falling can be a huge risk factor in itself, as it may prevent us from doing the activities that keep us healthy and connected to each other. When we stop exercising and staying active, we lose muscle strength and tone.”

Safe in and around your home

According to Snyder, one of the most important things you can do is check your home for safety hazards.

  • Start by taking a close look at your floors. Pick up papers and other clutter that you could stumble over, and clean up spills that could be slippery as soon as possible.
  • Throw rugs are especially dangerous, so either get rid of them or use adhesive grip tape to secure to the floor. Look for loose carpet and floorboards.
  • Move furniture and electrical cords that are in main pathways.
  • Use contrasting color adhesive tape on the landing after the bottom step to help with depth perception.
  • Stairways should have at least one handrail.
  • Have plenty of accessible lighting, especially where you leave and enter a room and ascend or descend stairs. Night lights are also a good investment throughout your homes, especially in bathrooms, and have flashlights handy in case of power outages.
  • Bathrooms pose unique challenges. Use well-placed, sturdy grab bars in tubs and showers, along with seats if needed. Grab bars also can be used next to the toilet.

Outside, be aware of porch steps. With changing weather, steps, sidewalks and streets can be slippery. If you can’t shovel leaves or snow, if possible, have someone do it for you.

“Know your limitation and environment, and plan your outside activities in advance during inclement weather,” said Snyder.

Prevention: from your eyes to your toes

Your physical health is directly tied to keeping you upright, and that includes everything from your vision to your feet.

For seniors with prescription glasses, don’t forget annual check-ups.

“Our vision changes over time, and conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma can negatively affect vision,” Snyder said. “And remember, sunglasses, which can help with glare, especially here in Steamboat where the sun can be so bright.”

Consider seeing a podiatrist, if needed, and ensure proper footwear is being worn. Snyder favors shoes that are sturdy and provide support with nonskid soles that grip the floor surface. And be careful when walking around with socks that can be slippery.

She recommends talking with your primary care provider about any medication.

“Understand the side effects of your prescription, when they may kick in, and plan accordingly,” said Snyder.

If you have any concerns or experience a fall, follow up with your provider who may refer you to physical or occupational therapy.

Keep moving

No matter if you use an assistive device such as a cane, stick or walker, Snyder urges you to keep moving. Walking, swimming, weight training and classes such as Tai Chi can be especially helpful with balance, strength and coordination.

“We really want people to have the motivation and ability to live each day with excitement and enjoyment,” she said. “Our physical strength is vital for our mental health, so making that part of our daily life is important.”

Mary Gay Broderick writes for UCHealth. She can be reached at

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