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Health & Wellness

Don't Fall for Anything

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A fall, when it happens, can mean a number of things – from a wake-up call to a trip to the hospital to a possible life-changing event.

It can happen to anyone, at any time or any stage of life with over 800,000 patients hospitalized in the United States each year related to fall injuries. Even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg slipped at home this past November, fracturing three ribs.

Winter poses even more possibilities to slip as you move between the street and your front door. But there are numerous common-sense steps you can take to minimize your likelihood of falling as well as the damage a fall can exact.

Look at where you live with fresh eyes: Give special scrutiny to the area around your home in the winter months.

  • Look for things like hoses and planters that can be obscured by snow or ice and are easy to trip over.
  • Put a bench by your most commonly used doors, which can help in moments when you might be struggling with bags, wallets, keys, or phones.
  • Once inside, minimize the number of items lying on the ground – bags, shoes, and pet toys can all contribute to lost footing.
  • Think twice about using that step stool. Move items you use most often to within easy reach.
  • Tape back throw rugs to keep them from moving across the floor.
  • Strategically place hand rails near stairs and other high-slip areas.

Speaking of your eyes: It’s important to have an eye doctor check your vision on a regular basis, and keep your prescriptions for eyeglasses up to date. For those who have bifocal or progressive lenses, it may make sense to keep a pair of glasses set to your distance prescription if you spend a lot of time outside.

Also consider enhancing the lighting in your home. A range of solutions – from motion sensors to task lamps to curtain choices – can reduce glare and dimness, which can lead to more falls.  

Focus on your feet: Talk with a healthcare provider about your foot health every year or so. Is your footwear doing the right things to keep you from taking a tumble? Would seeing a foot specialist be useful? As we age, foot pain from hallux valgus, plantar fascitis, and calluses may increase the risk of falls. 

Let tai chi balance you: In recent years, the Chinese mind-body exercise of tai chi has spread to senior housing and community centers around the country. The New York Times health columnist Jane Brody recently noted tai chi’s impact on balance and personal strength. “If you’re not ready or not able to tackle strength-training with weights, resistance bands, or machines, tai chi may just be the activity that can help to increase your stamina and diminish your risk of injury that accompanies weak muscles and bones,” she wrote. A recent clinical review, conducted by researchers from Beijing University and Harvard Medical School, similarly supports tai chi’s potential positive effects on health promotion and preservation. 

Increase your exercise options: A sensible schedule of exercise can strengthen your body and may help protect you from falls. Strength training programs can help build muscle mass and improve balance. Routine exercise might also help you recover more quickly when you do take a tumble.

Take inspiration from Justice Ginsburg. At 85, she practices a workout which includes cardio, pushups, single-leg squats, and tossing around a medicine ball. Find out what works for you – there are plenty of instructional videos and resources to help you ease into new habits.

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