Safeguard your home
- Remove or tack down loose floor coverings like rugs and mats. You can also place nonslip pads under throw rugs and bath mats.
- Secure electric and telephone cords.
- Make sure rooms are well lighted by ceiling fixtures and lamps. Replace low-watt light bulbs with brighter ones.
- Install light switches at both ends of stairs and hallways.
- Place lamps and flashlights near the bed.
- Install handrails on both sides of stairways in and outside the home.
- Clear away clutter from floors and stairs.
- Watch out for pets that may be underfoot.
- Use night lights to illuminate paths for nighttime trips to the bathroom.
- Install grab bars in bathtub and shower areas and on each side of the toilet.
- Apply nonskid and adhesive strips on bathtub and shower floors.
- Repair cracked outdoor stairs.
- Install high-visibility and slip-resistant edging for outdoor steps, as well as slip-resistant surfacing for decks and porches.
Watch your step
- Wear rubber-soled shoes for better traction.
- Wear supportive shoes that fit well and fasten securely. Instead of slip-ons, which can slide off and trip you, buy lace-up or Velcro shoes with nonstick soles.
- Avoid walking in socks or slippers.
- Ask your doctor if orthotic shoes or prescription orthotic devices that you can add to your shoes can help improve your stability.
- Use a walking aid, such as a cane or a walker, if you feel unsteady on your feet; watch out for hazards in your path.
Use canes and walkers correctly
- Hold a cane on the same side as your stronger leg. When walking, place your weight on your stronger leg, then step forward with your weaker leg and the cane. Avoid placing the cane too far ahead, as it might slip and cause you to fall.
- To climb stairs with your cane, step up with your stronger leg, then move the cane and your weaker leg to the same step. When descending stairs, step down with the cane and your weaker leg, then move the stronger leg to the same step.
- When using a walker, place it firmly (or roll it) a step’s length ahead. Lean slightly forward, holding the walker arms for support, and then take a step.
- Don’t use a walker on escalators or stairs.
- Use rubber tips on canes or walkers to keep them from slipping. Check the tips often. Replace them if they appear worn.
- Avoid wet floors and sidewalks.
- Consider adding ice tips to the bottom of your device in the wintertime. Ice tips can be flipped down for better traction on snow or ice. Also, consider using two canes on winter walks.
- Perform muscle-strengthening activities, like lifting weights or doing yoga, two or more times a week.
- Incorporate balance training, like tai chi or agility exercises, into your workout three or more days a week.
- Get at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking or water aerobics, or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity like running or swimming laps.
- If chronic conditions or disability prevent you from doing 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week, try to be as physically active as your condition and abilities allow.
See your doctor
- Ask your doctor whether any of your medications can cause dizziness or confusion that may cause you to fall. If so, check whether substitutions are possible.
- Get regular health checkups. Conditions like diabetes add to the risk of falling.
- Ask your doctor to assess your current balance and strength to determine your risk of falling and help you start a personalized program to prevent a fall.
- Tell your doctor whether you’ve fallen recently, even if you didn’t hurt yourself and got right back up on your feet.
- Stay hydrated; dehydration can cause weakness and dizziness, which can provoke falls.
- Consider purchasing a personal emergency response system. By pushing a button worn on a necklace or a bracelet, you can alert emergency medical services if you fall.
Keep your vision sharp
- Get your vision checked regularly to make sure your eyeglass prescription is up to date, since poor eyesight increases fall risk.
- If you get a new eyeglass prescription, be aware that new glasses might magnify or distort objects, especially if the lenses have a significant increase in strength or if you switch from single-vision, or nonmultifocal, lenses to bifocals or progressive lenses.
- If you have difficulty adapting to bifocal or progressive lenses, consider getting a second pair of glasses with single-vision lenses for outdoor use (but not for driving), which provides a wider range of vision when you look down at your feet.
- Tuck in your chin to view stairs or steps through the distance vision area of your bifocal or progressive eyeglasses, which can help your stability as you ascend or descend.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2019 special issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.
Also see Prescription Medications and Falls.
Published January 16, 2020