What do former Arizona Governor Rose Mofford, actor Gary Coleman, writer Kurt Vonnegut and songwriter Leonard Cohen all have in common? Sadly, they all died from a fall.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every three adults aged 65 years or older in the United States will suffer a fall. Ninety-five percent of those falls cause hip fractures.
With our beautiful Arizona climate, many falls happen on hiking trails. Slipping on loose gravel, losing your footing, misjudging the steepness, becoming dehydrated and dizzy frequently occur. Falls can happen outdoors and in your home.
My prevention philosophy is simple to remember: strong, steady and straight. Strong means doing weight bearing and resistance exercise regularly. Steady means practicing your balance. Straight means strengthening your back muscles for tall posture.
Health experts tell us to maintain a regular exercise program in order to increase strength, balance and coordination. Exercise classes like Buff Bones, a medically-endorsed bone health and balance program or Tai Chi are designed to improve those three areas. Walking, weight-bearing exercise, swimming and stationary bikes are also great ways to improve physical conditioning.
The following are all risk factors for a fall:
Having fallen in the past year.
Poor strength, vision, balance, posture or foot health.
Health concerns such as stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, dementia, traumatic brain injuries.
Taking medications such as sedatives and opiates.
Let’s look at a few factors you can easily control.
To create a safer environment in your home, eliminate slippery throw rugs and loose electrical cords, improve lighting, move furniture out of the way of common pathways, don’t walk on freshly washed floors, reduce floor level clutter and mark uneven surfaces with bright tape — especially steps with low contrast tile/carpet. Kids and dog toys can also cause falls. Add night lights along nighttime pathways. Installing grab bars and hand rails can help
keep you upright.
We love our precious pets but unfortunately, they are a common cause of trips and falls. They want to be close to us and are often underfoot. One of my clients fell over her golden retriever on her stairs and broke her hip. Another was walking her dogs and got tangled in their leashes, fell and broke her wrist. Building awareness of where your pets are when you are moving about can help you stay upright. Make sure their bedding, food bowls and toys are not in your common walking paths.
Shoes are another controllable factor. Sneakers are often inflexible like cement boots and make it difficult to feel what your feet are doing. Flip-flops cause excessive toe gripping and offer no arch or ankle support. High heels and details like bows, straps and ties can also contribute to falls. Wearing just socks can cause you to slip and fall. Alternate your footwear and choose softer, more flexible sneakers with non-skid soles.
Here are a few easy moves that will have lasting results for your balance. Practice these barefoot on a firm surface 10 minutes a day and you will see improvement very quickly. Be sure to have a sturdy chair back, a hiking pole or railing to help you balance.
Standing with your feet under your hips, identify the ball under your big toes, baby toes and heels as your “tripod” foot. Lightly lift the arches and gently press your toes down into the floor. Do this 5-10 times.
Lift all ten toes at the same time, hold for five seconds then firmly press your toes down into the floor. When this feels easy try doing alternating feet. Feel the stretch into your shins, inner thighs and pelvic floor. Do these
With feet parallel and hip distance apart, gently lift your heels off the floor, then lower down with control. Practice this 5-10 times.
Stand with both feet together with arms at your sides like a candlestick. Turn your head slowly to each side, stopping midway. Try doing this by closing your eyes or one eye at a time for more challenge. This improves your vestibular (inner ear balance) system.
Stand tall and place heel to toe moving forward a few steps then backwards. Observe your balance shifting in each direction.
Preventing a fall can mean the difference between living independently or moving into a care facility. Let’s keep you healthy and upright. JN
Deborah Lavinsky, NCPT® is the owner of Phoenix Pilates and Rossiter Center, a nationally certified pilates teacher and licensed Buff Bones® instructor. Her website is phoenixpilatesandrossitercenter.com.