3rd of 3 Columns on Balance Disorders and Falls Prevention
Preventing a fall can not only save your independence but also your life! Preventing injuries from falls reduces the need for nursing home placement. Injuries from falls are the seventh leading cause of death in people over the age of sixty-five.
The following suggestions will assist you in minimizing your risk of a fall:
- Diet & Hydration: Proper nutrition and hydration provides adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals to maintain energy levels and prevent drowsiness. Adequate hydration is also important. Treat dehydration from fever, diarrhea and vomiting by drinking plenty of fluids. You may need IV fluids administered in hospital.
- Exercise: Exercise and activity improves strength, flexibility and balance.
- Medication: Consult a pharmacist or physician regarding medications that can cause: drowsiness, dizziness, lightheadedness, faintness, fatigue, tiredness, unsteadiness, blurred vision, double vision, confusion, or otherwise affect alertness, balance or coordination.
- Positional Changes: Avoid sudden drops in blood pressure by avoid sudden changes in posture and position, standing up slowly, sitting for a few minutes and tapping your toes before getting out of bed and raise head of bed with a wedge pillow.
- Alcohol: Be cautious with alcohol since it interferes with alertness, balance, coordination and reflexes.
- Illness: Treat respiratory infections such as ear infections, colds, flu, sinus congestion to prevent labyrinthitis and Meniere’s disease.
- Frequent Urination: Be cautious with urgency, especially at night. Consider bedside commode and a grab bar by toilet. Turn lights on and put on eyeglasses to supplement vision. Night lights are recommended. A pendant alarm may be beneficial.
- Vision: Check eyesight and hearing regularly. Poor eyesight makes it difficult to see potential hazards. Update old eyeglasses. Inner ear problems can affect balance. Adequate lighting is paramount. Light switches should be within reach without getting out of bed and on both ends of hallway. Nightlights in bedroom, bathroom and hallway are recommended. Keep a flashlight handy. Turn lights on when entering house and at night. Use light paint and wallpaper to reflect more light. Use 100 watt bulbs for an adequate amount of light.
- Assistance Devices: Use assistive devices when negotiating uneven terrain or when you feel weak or tired. To avoid falls in the bathroom install grab bars in the shower, tub, and toilet areas. Use bathmats with suction cups or nonslip adhesive strips in tub/shower. Consider a shower stool or bench and an elevated toilet seat.
- Good Footing: Proper footwear with a flat sole, wide base and nonslip grips are important. Footwear should be tied securely and fit snugly. Do not walk in stocking feet
- Remove Hazards: Inspect your floors for hazards! Remove rugs and runners that slip or attach nonslip backing. Tack loose rugs. Glue vinyl flooring. Keep pathways free of electrical/telephone cords. Remove wax from floors. Mops up spills promptly.
- Safety on Stairs: Install secure handrails on both sides. Improve lighting. Ensure carpeting on stairs is firmly attached. Highlight with tape or paint edges of steps especially if narrow or higher/lower than the rest. Paint outdoor steps with a mixture of paint and sand for better traction. If carrying item up or down steps, use handrail.
- Walkways: Sidewalks and walkways should be clear, well lit and free of snow and ice. Salt or sand if slippery. Repair uneven paving.
- Eliminate clutter: Do not store items on steps. Rearrange furniture to move around easier. Watch out for pets. Avoid stepping over pets.
- Store Items Within Reach: Limit reaching by storing frequently used items where they can be reached easily. If reaching is required, use a stepstool with high, sturdy handrails. Repair or discard wobbly stools. Do not use a chair to reach for items.
Following these helpful hints will keep you safe by preventing a loss of balance and a potential fall!
Medical Reviewers: Mark Frattali, MD, ENT at Delta Medix, Division Chairman Otolaryngology – Head Neck Surgery at Commonwealth Health Regional Hospital
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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.