Falls Prevention Awareness week, a national health campaign with the goal of increasing awareness around injury prevention due to falls, is September 18-24, 2022.
It is reasonable to be concerned about falls, but the good news is that most falls are preventable! Falls are NOT a natural part of aging, and research has shown that, through some lifestyle steps, we can reduce both concerns about falling and the rate of falls.
Shift our attitudes. 1/3 to 1/2 of older adults acknowledge their fear of falling, which is associated with decreased satisfaction with life, increased frailty, depression, decreased mobility, and decreased social activity. When we have attitudes like, “I can’t do much anymore,” or “I am better off just staying still than risking a fall,” it sabotages our efforts to prevent falls. Our fear of falling can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, if we let it keep us from challenging our balance.
Keep our sensorimotor systems (eyes, neck, ankles, ears) working as best as we can. Get hearing and vision checked. Stretch and strengthen ankles: trace the alphabet with a toe; stand on one foot; stand on a soft surface with two feet and then one foot. Walk on tiptoes; walk on heels; walk on uneven surfaces. Improve proprioception (our perception of the position and movement of the body) by doing exercises that involve coordination and movement patterns. Improve the vestibular system, which provides our brain with information about motion, head position, and spatial orientation, by moving our head in different directions, or use a swing at the playground. Turn the head side to side, up and down, and diagonally.
Clear our homes of fall hazards, avoid rushing to the phone or door, and wear shoes that fit well and offer support.
Create a weekly exercise routine that includes all four types of exercise: endurance, flexibility, strengthening, and balance exercises. We can also strengthen our core muscles by sitting without back support. (If you walk regularly, consider joining the fourth annual 45 Million Steps to Prevent Falls. Walk every day in September and report your steps; we’ll see if we can meet our statewide goal. You can find the link to report your steps on our Facebook page at facebook.com/LifePathMA.)
Challenge our balance in order to improve it. Make an exercise routine that includes endurance, flexibility, strengthening, and balance exercise. Make it more fun by adding a balance challenge. Stand on one foot when you brush your teeth. Park a little farther from the door and walk heel/toe to the door.
Sign up for a local program. Our “A Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns About Falls” workshop, from MaineHealth’s Partnership for Healthy Aging, which runs for 8 two-hour classes, teaches participants to view falls and fear of falling as controllable; sets realistic goals for increasing strength, flexibility, and balance; and explains how to change one’s environment, attitudes, and habits to reduce fall risk factors. There are two workshops available this fall:
- Athol Senior Center, Wednesdays, Sept. 21-Nov. 16 (skipping Oct. 5 for Yom Kippur), 1-3 p.m.
- Gill-Montague Senior Center, Tuesdays, Sept. 20-Nov. 15 (skipping Nov. 8 for election day), 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
Sign up for LifePath’s “A Matter of Balance” class by calling our Healthy Living Department at 413-773-5555, ext. 2297. You can also ask about our other workshops on living with chronic conditions, pain, or diabetes and healthy eating.