Fend off Falls 

Taking a tumble can cause serious injury. Take steps to reduce your risks.

By Timothy Gower

Pratfalls are played for laughs on TV, but trips and slips are no joke: Each year, falls send about 2.8 million Americans to emergency rooms, with 800,000 requiring a night or more in the hospital.

You may be more vulnerable to falls if arthritis has made your gait wobbly, says physiatrist Levan Atanelov, MD, founder of Steady Strides in Maryland, a clinic that works with individuals and institutions, such as nursing homes, to reduce falls. Likewise, he notes arthritis can narrow the spinal column (known as spinal stenosis), which interferes with nerve signals from the feet to the brain, throwing you off balance.

But there’s good news: “Falls are preventable,” says Dr. Atanelov, adding that a comprehensive strategy can keep you in step.  

Tidy up. Eliminate tripping hazards in the home by keeping clutter to a minimum. Tape down throw rugs. “Or better yet, throw them out,” says Dr. Atanelov.

Lighten up. Keeping your home well-lit can prevent stumbling over the cat or ottoman. Bathroom visits in the wee hours are a major cause of falls, says Dr. Atanelov, so keep that critical pathway illuminated with night lights.

Get support. Install a slip-proof bathmat and grab bars in your bathroom. Raised toilet seats and shower chairs can reduce falls, too. Staircases should be in good repair and have railings.

Tune in. Keeping focused and alert to your environment is particularly important when you’re out on the town, because unnoticed sidewalk curbs are a common cause of falls, explains Dr. Atanelov. Use a cane or other assistive device if needed.

Head off headrushes. Orthostatic hypotension is a condition that makes blood pressure drop when you stand, causing light-headedness and increasing the risk for falls by 73%, according to a review in the May 2019 issue of The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine. Ask your doctor if any drugs you take (especially blood pressure medications) might be causing light-headedness. Other triggers include dehydration, so drink plenty of water.

Better your balance. Regular physical activity, including strength training, will help keep you upright, but balance exercises are most important for preventing falls, says Dr. Atanelov.

Get assessed. If you have fallen twice or more in the past year, or if you’ve needed medical care for a fall or feel unsteady on your feet, the American Geriatric Society recommends asking your doctor about having a comprehensive assessment of your fall risk.

Published September 2019


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