Smart tips for preventing falls

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, falling accounts for more than half the injuries Canadians suffer.

  • Falls were responsible for two of every three days spent in the hospital for injuries.
  • And the cost to the economy is more than $7 billion annually.

If you went into the hospital because of a fall, you spent an average 12 days recovering in hospital, according to the Institute’s statistics.

Yet Dr. Terumi A. Izukawa says most falls can be prevented. According to the deputy head of internal and geriatric medicine at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto:
“An acute illness like a stroke or heart attack will often precipitate a fall. But the chronic gradual changes that happen as you age also contribute to your tendency to fall.”  

Body changes
For instance, our body cells divide less frequently, producing changes in our physical and mental abilities.

  • The lenses of our eyes thicken, so our <a href="htp://”>vision becomes less acute
  • The ability to adjust from dark to light is affected
  • Our hearing is less acute after our 50th birthday.
  • Our gait changes with age-our steps become shorter and not as high
  • Our bodies flex slightly forward, so we’re less steady on our feet.

Medications, alcohol
Medications may also contribute to falls, especially those affecting your reflexes or perception and thinking, says E. Anne Braun. She’s the medical director of community services and head of geriatric medicine at St. Peter’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario.

“Medications may be a double-edged sword. They help to treat illnesses, but some produce side effect that may lead to falls.”

She says herbal remedies and over-the-counter preparations can contribute to the risk of falls too.

“People feel that because these products don’t require a prescription, they can’t do any harm. But that’s not correct, she says.

Tell doctor
Both Izukawa and Braun recommend making a list of all the medications you take and keeping your doctor informed.

  • Interactions between medications can contribute to falls.
  • Alcohol can also interact with medications and increase the risk of falls.

Many doctors consider one fall by a person over age 50 to be a risk factor for another fall later. In many cases, the fall is a sign of an undiagnosed illness or disability. So, even if you fall and don’t hurt yourself, mention the fact to your doctor on your next visit.

Preventing falls
Here are steps to preventing falls in your home:

  • Plug night-lights into hallway and bathroom outlets.
  • Remove scatter rugs and low coffee tables
  • Securely tape telephone and electrical cords along baseboards.
  • If you use a cane, make sure it has a single-point grip for winter walking and that it can move smoothly over carpeting in your home.
  • Avoid carrying heavy or bulky objects up and down stairs. Install a handrail along basement steps.
  • Consider installing an alarm service that will send help if you are incapacitated by a fall.

Walking aids
If you’re concerned about your balance, consider using a walking aid to help you get around safely. But consult a health care professional first, because the proper choice of support will depend upon your height and posture.

“A lot of people hesitate to use assisted devices,” says Laurie Bernick, a Baycrest nurse specialist. “But canes and walkers can help because they encourage people to get out and about safely and have a good social life.”

To order the booklet Shedding Light on Falls, published by the North York Falls Coalition e-mail [email protected].