Dr. Mark Watson - HeadshotDr. Mark Watson

Dr. Mark Watson is a doctor of physical therapy, certified aging-in-place specialist, and fall prevention expert. He can be reached at 336-292-0724 or by email at mark@watsonhealth.com or through safeflooring@carpetsupermart.com.

Former President Jimmy Carter, now 94, recently fell and broke his hip, drawing attention to one of our nation’s current epidemics—falls among older adults. Believe it or not, each year one in three Americans age 65 and over falls.  It is also the leading cause of death by injury among older adults.

A lesser known fact of former President Carter’s recent fall was that he was preparing to go turkey hunting when it happened. Turkey hunting at 94—that’s great! Yet, this highlights that serious falls are a risk for even the most agile of older adults.

Preventing falls in later life may be easier than you think. Here are five key fall prevention tips to consider:

  • Talk to a professional. Your medical doctor or doctor of physical therapy is perhaps your greatest resource when it comes to preventing falls.  Issues worth discussing are medications, health conditions and how they may affect balance, and discussion of past falls, if any.  Additionally, many doctors of physical therapy offer screenings to test agility, strength, and balance, usually providing plans for addressing any deficits.
  • Keep moving. As President Carter proved, agility alone is not always enough to prevent falls, but it does help! Working with a fitness professional is a great entry point to developing a lifestyle of habitual, proper exercise. It is worth noting also that certain forms of exercise, such as tai chi, have been proven to reduce the likelihood of falls by up to 55 percent, according to the National Council on Aging.
  • Go shoe shopping. Floppy slippers and high heels are sworn enemies of fall prevention. Few changes as small and inexpensive as choosing flat-soled, full-footed shoes can make as big of a difference in limiting stumbles and falls. With plenty of fashionable choices today, there’s no reason not to upgrade one’s wardrobe with some sensible shoes.
  • Address home fall hazards. This one is a biggie. According to the CDC, adapting one’s home can be more effective at reducing falls than almost any other single intervention. This includes things like limiting throw rugs, decluttering walkways, repairing loose flooring, and improving lighting. Since everyone gets comfortable in their surroundings, it may be wise to consider a professional home fall hazard assessment, as well. Some pros, including home health agencies, offer these services as a professional courtesy.
  • Consider assistive devices. While your healthcare provider may recommend use of a cane or walker for safety, other devices around the home may help as well.  Adding railings to steps, or grab bars in showers can make all the difference to preventing falls for some people. These and many other adaptations are available and less expensive than one might think. Any of them is definitely less expensive than a serious fall if you think you or a loved one may be at risk.

These five tips are a good starting point for anyone desiring to live a fall-free lifestyle for as many years as possible.  Armed with this knowledge, hopefully you and/or those you love can focus energy on more adventurous things that healthier folks do, such as taking up turkey hunting in your 90s!