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I don’t know about you, but I have a fear of falling already. Too many people my age are starting to fall and hurt themselves. As we grow older we become more likely to be seriously injured by falls. Many falls result in scrapes and bruises, but some cause broken bones and concussions and may be disabling. The last thing I want to end up with is a walker or wheelchair because of falling.
Winter, and not just snow falls.
Falls happen for many reasons. Trip hazards, slippery conditions, a person’s gait, all can contribute to a fall. A dear friend has developed the habit of walking on his toes, mostly. He has a lot of trouble walking in winter and has fallen in the street several times. He is taking physical therapy to improve his gait.
Many people adopt a shuffling gait when they are afraid of falling, thinking that keeping their feet closer to the ground will make them safer. In reality, shuffling just makes slipping or tripping easier to do. So, keep picking up your feet.
Every winter I relearn how to walk on slippery surfaces. I may look funny, planting one foot firmly, then transferring weight to it, before moving the other one. However, I haven’t fallen yet, unless you count the little slip of the left foot on wet ice that made me sit down rather suddenly in my car. Luckily it was there to break my fall!
A coworker, about my age, says she slipped and fell while walking her dog last week. She says she still feels jolted all over, though she wasn’t seriously injured. I noticed that a few years ago when I got bucked off a snowmobile. (Snow isn’t as soft as it looks.) So even a minor fall feels worse now than it used to.
Strengthen your core
A lady I know, who has been falling quite a bit the past couple of years, took a course at the nursing home on how not to fall so much. Her doctor set it up. She took it with other people who didn’t live there, as well as some residents. The course consisted mostly of core strengthening exercises.
After having core-strengthening exercises for a sore hip, I noticed I was more stable walking and climbing stairs than I had been before.
Your core is the set of muscles in your back, abdomen and sides that basically surrounds your middle. Working together, they help you stay upright and manage your balance.
For more on core strengthening exercises, check here and here. Remember to consult your doctor before starting any exercise program, in case you have an underlying condition.
Learn to fall safely
I’ve known people who tripped and fell, putting out an arm to catch themselves and breaking the arm. Others bang up various joints. My aunt destroyed a replacement knee falling out of bed. Catching yourself can be dangerous as falling.
Knowing how to fall safely is a skill one can learn. Those who break their arms or wrists catching themselves are trying to be rigid to break the fall, but that rigidity hurts them. Learn to fold up gradually if you can, roll and otherwise use up some of the fall’s energy. That way less of the energy goes into hurting you.
Anyone who spent any time trying to ride snowmobiles, or bicycles with no brakes, jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, practicing martial arts or just horsing around should have this. Our generation did enough rough-and-tumble to give us an idea of what to do on the way down. Duck your head, tuck your limbs, and roll.
Fall prevention in the home
Did you know that you’re most likely to fall in your home? It’s true and it’s dangerous, particularly if you’re alone. That’s why it’s so important to have your place set up for safety.
First of all, floors shouldn’t have a lot of trip hazards. These include uneven transitions between flooring types or rooms, raised thresholds, slippery throw rugs and extension cords.
My grandparents had the world’s slipperiest throw rugs in the upstairs hall. We kids fell on them so many times we thought that’s why they were called “throw rugs.” Oddly, the old folks never fell on them. They apparently were aware and were careful of them.
Use night lights to navigate your way to the bathroom and other midnight destinations. Don’t take a chance on tripping over a wandering pet.
The bathroom, full of hard surfaces and slickness, should have enough supports for you to get in and out of the tub or shower. Consider a shower seat if you get wobbly standing that long. A grab bar by the toilet may be of help as well. If you find yourself having trouble with the threshold to the shower, consider remodeling to a lip-free shower. A transfer seat could be useful getting in and out of a tub enclosure.
Any stairs that you may have around the house should be free of loose carpet, slippery surfaces, uneven stair heights and wobbly treads. (That lets out my cellar steps!) Keep them in good repair and use that handrail, which should be solidly affixed and not wobbly.
Outside your home, the same things apply. Be on the lookout for irregular porch steps, loose pavers, and lumpy terrain. Any of those can throw you.
Perhaps the best way to keep steady is not to get too sedentary. Walking daily helps you stay active enough to work most of your muscles at staying upright and moving around. Find a friend, a music source, or get a dog, set a course and get moving. About 30 minutes most days does it. Not only will you be steadier, but also healthier overall. Plus you can put off getting a cane or walker for a long time.
Falling is part of life, but it can be prevented and survived. Try not to let fear of falling limit your activities.
What other ideas do you have about fall prevention and safety?