Do you have concerns about falling? If you answered yes, you aren’t alone. Many older adults experience fears about falling and decide to limit their activities. National Falls Prevention Awareness Day was last month, and as we move through the autumn season, it’s the perfect time to think about fall risks you can reduce or eliminate. According to STEADY U Ohio (aging.ohio.gov/steadyu), an Ohio Department of Aging falls prevention initiative, there are many ways in which falls can be prevented as the season changes:
- Shorter days mean less direct sunlight and less sunlight overall, meaning you may need more light to get around your home safely. Invest in extra lamps, nightlights and exterior pathway lights to make sure you can always see where you are walking, especially around doorways and stairs. Use the highest-wattage bulb recommended for your fixtures.
- Don't let the cooler weather and shorter days limit your activity. Exercise that builds and maintains strength and balance is important to prevent falls year-round. Ask your doctor or physical therapist about indoor exercises that can help you maintain strength and balance when you can't venture out.
- As the temperature drops, bundle up to stay warm, but make sure you can see in all directions and move easily and freely.
- Keep shoes and walking aids (canes, walkers) free of dirt and mud. Dry them off immediately upon coming in from wet conditions. Remember, wet shoes are just as dangerous as wet floors.
- Leaves, branches and other debris from trees due to the change in seasons can make walkways slippery or hide tripping hazards, like uneven surfaces, edges and steps. Keep walkways clean, and if you can't see that the surface is clear and flat, pick another path.
- If winterizing your home includes cleaning gutters, changing light bulbs or other tasks that require you to get up high, use a step ladder or a step stool with a handle, and maintain three points of contact (two feet and a hand, or two hands and a foot) at all times. Do not climb on chairs or other furniture that was not designed for that purpose.
- If your autumn plans include attending one of Ohio's great fall fairs and festivals, stick to paved surfaces as much as possible; watch for trash, hoses and cables on walkways; drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated; and consider attending at off-peak times, when the crowds are lighter.
Keeping yourself active is a great way to reduce your chances of falling, so search for creative and enjoyable ways to stay active during the colder months. For example, find a place to walk indoors and ask a friend to join you or enroll in a program like Tai Chi that can improve flexibility, strength and balance. Not sure where to start? Check out the website go4life.nia.nih.gov to view free workout videos and learn new exercises. You can also go to ncoa.org for tips on preventing falls or cdc.gov/steadi/patient.html for additional resources on staying independent as you age.
Do you know of a group that meets on a regular basis and would like to learn more about preventing falls? Ohio State University Extension offers a falls prevention program called A Matter of Balance. The program is a series of eight two-hour classes that cover practical strategies for managing falls. Contact Ohio State University Extension Wayne County at 330-264-8722 for more information.
Sara Meeks is an OSU Family and Consumer Sciences Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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