Banish the Fear of Falling

We all know how easily it can happen – A missed step, a rug out of place, or an icy surface can quickly send you to the ground in a fall.  The risk of falling increases with age, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four Americans aged 65 or older falls each year.  Along with the obvious physical ramifications that a fall can bring, a person’s mental health and well-being can also be impacted.  More and more seniors fear falling and limit their physical activities as a protective measure.  They may avoid walking as much, running errands, or doing physical outdoor activities such as gardening.  Their social calendar also takes a hit as they become more isolated, which in turn can lead to depression and even more physical decline.  

But a fear of falling doesn’t have to dictate your actions or mental state.  Simple steps can be taken to prevent falls and reduce any fear of falling, and occupational therapy can help.  Occupational or physical therapists are trained with the necessary skills needed to address both fall prevention and the fear of falls.  Maureen Sylvester, Physical Therapist with Professional Therapy Services at Snyder Village, shares some tips on how to prevent falls.  “In-the-home falls can be avoided by reducing clutter from pathways, removing throw rugs and loose cords, having adequate lighting, placing grab bars as needed in the shower or bathtub, or using rubber-backed bath mats” explains Maureen.  “Outdoor fall prevention strategies include using an assistive device if needed and increasing awareness of potential hazards such as cracks in the sidewalks or icy conditions.” 

Taking care of your overall health can help lower your chances of falling and sustaining injury.  “The greatest fall preventive measure is to ensure fitness and strength through a regular exercise program,” says Maureen.  “As a physical therapist, I evaluate strength, mobility, and balance deficits and create a plan of care to address identified weakness.”  Regular activity and exercise improves muscle strength and helps keep your joints, tendons, and ligaments flexible, and exercises like yoga can help improve balance and strength – all important factors in fall prevention.  

So what happens if you do end up falling? Some simple techniques can help reduce the impact of your fall and help protect you from injury.   Maureen explains, “To ‘fall correctly’, try to tuck your chin and raise your arms to protect your head.  Try to turn to your side to avoid a full-frontal or backward impact.  Attempt to keep your arms and legs bent to soften the landing.  Reaching with an outstretched arm often leads to wrist fractures, so try to roll with the fall in order to absorb the shock and disperse the impact.”  A medical alert device can be worn to bring added security in case of a fall.  While wearing a medical alert device, such as a necklace or bracelet, a simple push of a button can bring emergency medical help within minutes.  Snyder Village provides an emergency call-system to its residents, allowing them to keep their independent lifestyle and providing the peace of mind knowing that if they do fall, help is just a call away.  

If an injury from a fall does occur, therapy can help.  Snyder Village offers both in-patient and out-patient therapy available to the local community to help reduce the negative impact of a fall.  “In therapy we can treat painful muscle and joint injuries, address fear of falls, and improve balance and ambulation quality,” explains Maureen.  “Treatments may include manual therapies such as joint mobilization and soft tissue massage, modalities for pain modulation, exercise and stretching, bracing if needed, retraining posture control, and incorporating challenging balance and gait exercise to restore confidence in mobility and strategies for fall prevention.”

Even though older adults do have an increased risk of falling, don’t let fear of falling keep you from being active and living the life you desire.  By incorporating these preventive tips and staying active, you’ll greatly reduce your chances of falling and injury.  So take that walk with a friend, try that new yoga class, or get out in your garden.  By overcoming your fear of falling and maintaining an active lifestyle, not only will your body reap the benefits but your mind (and fears) will be put to ease.    

Snyder Village in Metamora is a life plan community that offers independent living in its cottages and apartments.  Snyder Village also features assisted living, memory care, and a health center along with physical, occupational, and speech therapy on site.  Its home care services support residents in Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, and Marshall Counties.  For more information, call (309) 367-4300 or visit www.snydervillage.com.