Here's a scary thought – you have less time than it takes the human eye to blink
to catch yourself before a fall. As you start to fall, your brain figures out
that you're no longer steady. That activates neurons. Your eyes assess what's
going on. Your muscles react – or they don't – and you hit the floor. All that
in a mere 250 to 400 milliseconds.
No wonder we fall on ice, down the steps, off the ladder and trip over cords.
Falls are so common they're the number one reason for trauma
admissions. They don't spare the young or the old. On playgrounds, more injuries
happen on monkey bars than any other equipment. Twenty to 30 percent of people
65 and over who fall suffer lacerations, hip fractures or head trauma. Many of
them then develop a fear of falling and it affects their activities and their
ability to live independently.
But broken bones – or worse – are not inevitable.
Alegent Creighton Health Immanuel Rehabilitation Center
Physical Therapist Lindsay Nichols has seen every kind of fall in her work – from
an elderly woman who fell on ice going to the mailbox to a young man who fell
off a ladder while putting up Christmas lights. Another person became entangled
in the comforter by her bed and fell trying to get untangled. These falls resulted
in injuries severe enough to require hospitalization.
She offers up these tips to avoid falls:
Nichols said it's also a good idea to always carry your cell phone with you
at all times so you can call for help if there's a problem.
- Secure all cords, from the television to the computer, so they're not in
- De-clutter your bedroom.
- Install a night light or a small lamp – especially for the elderly.
- Make rugs slip-proof with double-sided tape underneath, or buy nonslip
rugs, especially for the bathroom.
- Install grab bars in the shower and next to the toilet.
- In winter, make sure your sidewalk is shoveled so you don't slip.
- Keep frequently-used items at waist- and shoulder-height in your kitchen
so you don't fall off that wobbly stool.
- Have your hearing and vision checked regularly. They
can affect your balance.
- Maintain strength and flexibility. If you have weak leg muscles, you'll have a more difficult time
correcting your balance if you start to fall.
Finally, review your medications with your healthcare provider. Some medications
increase your risk of falling. And ask about an assessment of your overall health
and risks for falling. A referral to a physical therapist could help prevent
serious injury. The Immanuel Rehabilitation Center has physical therapists who specialize in balance
and vestibular therapy.