Falling well: Tips for preventing falls for active seniors

I’ve never thought of my active, 65-year-old sister as clumsy. But after Becky called to inform me she’d had her third major bone break in 10 years due to falling, I began to wonder.

“I guess I’m just a bad faller,” she said.

The fear of falling

Falls can make us fearful or depressed and cause us to avoid activity. The good news is that many of them—if not most—can be prevented. We can eliminate accidents by addressing the most common factors: balance and gait, vision problems, medication issues and modifying your environment.

“Being aware of your surroundings and tripping hazards is the best way to prevent falls,” said Matt MacAskill, physical therapist with Western Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. “Use night lights in your home and eliminate scatter rugs. Outside, use walking sticks.”

Don’t let the fear of falling keep you from being active, as maintaining your physical health can help prevent future falls. Regular exercise not only strengthens your muscles, it helps keep your joints, tendons and ligaments flexible. Mild weight-bearing activities, such as lifting free weights, walking or climbing stairs may slow bone loss from osteoporosis. Healthy bones won’t prevent a fall, but if you do fall, it might prevent emergency room visits or extended hospital stays.

“Bone density screenings are recommended if you have had a bone break before age 65, otherwise it can wait until after 65,” said Dr. Phil Mohler. “If the screening is positive for osteoporosis, your physician will have a treatment plan.”

Becky has yet to have a bone density screening. With her history and Mohler’s recommendation, it appears she is years past due. Her broken bones happened during exercise class, hiking and biking, so she wasn’t falling due to inactivity or lack of strength. People fall every day doing these same activities without getting hurt. What’s their secret?

The right way to fall

Professionals say there is indeed a right way to fall, and it could save you a lot of grief.

  1. Protect your head. If you find yourself falling, pivot to your side and tuck in your head. Hitting it can result in a concussion or a whiplash-like impact. Falling straight forward or backward raises the risk of damaging your spine and vital organs.
  2. Avoid falling onto outstretched hands or ankles. This will concentrate the full force of the impact on those joints, increasing the risk of breaks. Similarly, you don’t want to crash down on your knee, breaking your kneecap. Instead, round your body, bend your elbows and knees and try to take the hit on the fleshiest parts of your body. Bend your knees and crouch down so you won’t have as far to fall. The key is not to fight the fall, but to roll with it.
  3. Relax as you fall. Experts say rigidity is your enemy, while pliability is your friend. You’re less likely to hurt yourself if you soften up all your muscles and exhale, which may go against your automatic instinct.

You don’t have to be an elite athlete to fall the right way. In fact, young children are the best fallers because they have yet to develop fear or embarrassment. They merely tumble and roll without tensing up and trying to catch themselves. So next time you start to teeter, think like a toddler and tumble!

Melanie Wiseman

Melanie Wiseman

Melanie Wiseman is passionate about writing and loves sharing the stories of family, love, volunteering and adventure of the people she interviews. Raised in Wisconsin, she has called western Colorado home for more than 30 years. She loves traveling, reading, photography, hiking, camping, biking, cross-country skiing and exploring the outdoors with her husband, Dan, and Papillon, Abby.
Melanie Wiseman

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