Falls can happen as we age. Here are some steps to prevent them.
As you age, everything from strength to agility to sensory processing slightly declines, and staying balanced can become more difficult. Luckily, there are ways you can prevent falls.
It wasn't the most painful. That was reserved for the time I was ogling two young men working on a neighbor's roof and stepped into a gaping hole in our lawn, going down like a closed umbrella and breaking my fourth metatarsal.
Nor was it the most dramatic. That was the time when, during a run, I tripped on a concrete crack and came up with bloodied knees and palms and a slightly chipped front tooth.
But the spill I took on a recent Sunday night was different from either of those.
Earlier, filled with the optimism of youth, I was sure I'd be fine once the bumps and bruises healed. This time was something new. This time, I fell in the confines of my bedroom, where I tripped over my own feet – no hole, no sidewalk crack to blame. I simply went down, hard on the wooden floor. Elbow, hip, knees, and the side of my head. Boom.
Unlike the other falls, when my first instinct was to jump up and get on my way, my first impulse was not to move. Instead, I lay there and breathed through the pain and the shock, assessing the damage.
This time, I thought: Uh-oh, I'm getting old.
Sure, young people fall. I even know a woman my age who practices a bizarre form of self-defense where she deliberately throws herself to the concrete and bounces up, to tempt fate and build resilience. I have plenty of resilience. And muscles. Twice a week, I do multiple squats and weight lifting. Five days a week, I bike 12 miles in an hour. I try to walk 10,000 steps a day.
And as I do this exercise, I tell myself that every squat and dead lift means I won't suffer my mother's fate. Once she passed 80, she was terribly prone to falls. Outside. In her apartment: kitchen, bathroom, den. Luckily, she never broke anything, but despite our precautions — getting rid of the throw rugs, putting in handrails — she fell at least twice or three times a year. Once, we had to call the fire company to break down her front door since she couldn't rise on her own. She was proud and independent, and those spills and rescues embarrassed her to no end, since she was clear that she could do things "on my own."
Then, I'd been a witness and a helper. Now, I'd taken the fall.
All this happened on the eve of my 64th birthday. People like to say 64 is the new 44, 90 the new 70, and that may be a comfort to some. But what shook me about this fall was that for the first time, on the floor, before I rallied, I felt every one of those years.
Of course, I did rise and examine the damage. I had a small bump on my brow, a bruise on my hip. My elbow ached where I had tried to unsuccessfully break the fall. Both my knees were skinned.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at age 85, reportedly was up and around and working from her hospital room within a day of a fall in her office earlier this month in which she broke three ribs.
I'm three days out from the fall as I write this and back to my regular schedule, save the weight lifting – my elbow demands the break. A visit to the doctor showed no neurological damage. As for my injuries, I do ache, but I'm healing.
I'd like to say everything is back to normal, and mostly it is. I'm back to my writing, my friends, and my life. But I'd be lying if I said that the world didn't seem a little bit changed, slightly off balance, a bit less safe. In the supermarket, I push my cart more gingerly along the aisles, planting each foot firmly on the ground. As I walk, I'm aware of my muscles and bones, supporting me, holding me up. Everything seems a bit more fragile than before.
Take a stand against falls
Getting up in years can increase your risk of taking a tumble. As everything from strength to agility to sensory processing slightly declines, staying balanced can become more difficult. Plus, medications for new ailments may come with a side helping of dizziness, drowsiness, or confusion.
Luckily, there are ways you can prevent falls, from rearranging your home, to becoming more aware of your surroundings, to adding exercise to your daily routine. Among them:
Declutter your house. Roll up throw rugs, ban trailing extension cords, clear boxes and newspapers from floors, and ensure that there is adequate lighting, particularly on stairways and in halls.
Check your vision and eyeglass prescription. Be alert to any cardio or blood-pressure problems.
Ask your doctor to go through all medicines with you. Try to reduce dosages or discontinue medicines you no longer require – especially drugs that are known to cause balance issues.
Wear well-fitting shoes with low heels and nonskid soles. Never walk in your stocking feet around the house.
Practice good posture to keep you balanced.
Pay attention when you walk outside. Keep your cell phone in your pocket and avoid wet or slippery surfaces.
Stand up slowly to avoid a rapid dip in blood pressure that might sweep you off your feet.
Eat a healthy diet with adequate dietary calcium and Vitamin D. Avoid excessive alcohol intake and smoking.
Exercise regularly, working up to about 150 minutes per week. Climbing stairs, jogging, hiking, dancing, weight training, and other activities can build bone strength and slow progression of osteoporosis, a disorder that causes bones to thin and weaken. Tai chi, an ancient Chinese exercise that consists of slow measured movements, has been shown to significantly reduce the likelihood of falls in older adults.