Whether we consider it or not, independence is an essential part of our daily lives. However, as we age, this status can become increasingly elusive. Today, a new challenge has emerged — how to continue living independently and safely into old age.

One of the most detrimental experiences for a senior is falling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that one out of five seniors who fall die within a year due to injury complications, and one out of four spends at least a year in a nursing facility. This begs the question, how can we best prevent falls and stay healthy and safe? As an occupational therapist, I look at the following areas regarding fall risks: the person, the environment and the task the person is performing.

When it comes to yourself, it is important to be aware of your physical and psychological risk factors. Physical factors include vision, such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts, and bone and muscle strength, such as osteoporosis, and general muscle weakness. Any of these complications alone or in different combinations can lead to a deterioration of balance. Other physical considerations should include any medications being taken. Blood pressure, sedatives, diuretics and muscle relaxers all can lead to falls.

Your psychological factors, including fear and bad habits that you may have developed, can also impact your fall risk. For example, fear of falling creates inactivity, often resulting in muscle weakness. Habits such as lack of exercise, getting up too fast, not putting on glasses in the middle of the night and standing on chairs to reach things also put you at risk.

Your daily environment is the easiest aspect of fall prevention to modify. Whether at home or out in the community, things to look out for are cluttered walkways, poor lighting, slippery surfaces, absent handrails or grab bars, out-of-reach cabinets, unsecured rugs, loose cords and unfamiliar environments. I have often gone into patients’ homes to help set up the home for reduced falls by clearing areas for functional use.

Easy changes you can make to reduce your chances of falling are:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Strong bones and muscles make a person less likely to fall; the severity of damage is decreased if they do happen to have an accident.

  • Talk to your health care provider about the medications you are taking.
  • Have your vision checked regularly.
  • Make your home safer by having it assessed by a professional.
  • Occupational therapists are able to create exercise programs that will help strengthen your body and reduce falls as well as perform a home evaluation so that you can continue safely and independently pursuing happiness.

    Physical Therapy Northwest works in conjunction with Silverton Health. To make an appointment, call 503-873-1722.

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