TMH Living Well: Help prevent falls by changing daily habits
With winter fast approaching, it’s time to think about how to prevent falls. Did you know that one in three people over the age of 65 fall each year? This number only increases with age. Over half of all 80 year-olds have taken a spill. A part of preventing falls is really in your hands — you can help reduce your risk of falls by making a few simple changes in your daily activity and adopting a short exercise routine that you do faithfully each day.
“Making yourself fall-proof is somewhat like a waterproof watch, there’s no such thing. Yet there are steps you can take to reduce your risk,” said Ryan Shawcroft, PT, DPT, a physical therapist with The Memorial Hospital.
Correct habits related to falling
Shawcroft said that what you do when you start to fall is really important. When people shuffle rather than taking one big step, they are at a much higher risk of falling.
“By taking one big step instead of shuffling you clear your foot from whatever may be tripping you and give yourself better counterbalance to brace the fall,” he said.
Also, make a conscious effort to lift your feet when you walk. The less you drag your feet, the less chance you have of stumbling.
As we grow older and our body starts to feel achy and stiff we are less apt to want to move. Yet, staying active is a key to fall-proofing yourself. Make sure to move your body daily through walking and exercise.
“Being active promotes good movement of joints and strengthens muscles. With more range of motion and strength, you are more able to react to unforeseen obstacles,” Shawcroft said.
Adopt a daily exercise routine
It doesn’t take a lot of daily exercising to maintain flexibility and improve balance, a key to avoiding falls. Regular exercising also improves your reflexes, helping you react more quickly when the unexpected happens. It is recommended that you spend 30 minutes of your day being physically active outside of your normal, daily routine. This is a good start to helping you reduce your risk of falls.
The key is exercising consistently and challenging yourself without pushing too hard. Exercises need to be difficult enough to maintain strong and flexible muscles. Join an exercise class or find a place clear of obstacles to exercise at home. Of course, check with your primary care physician prior to starting an exercise program. Here are some suggestions specific to fall prevention from TMH physical therapists:
• Begin by marching in place. If you have to hold onto something for balance you can, but work towards doing the exercise without the support.
• Stand on one leg for 15 seconds, working up to a minute.
• Stretch your calves using the runner’s stretch, a lunge position or prop the front of your foot against a wall and lean in. Do five repetitions, holding for 15 to 30 seconds. Make it a goal to improve your ability to reach your nose to your toes.
Report balance issues to your doctor
In order to balance, you rely on your vision and your vestibular system. As a natural part of the aging process these systems wear down, and some medications have the unwanted side effect of dizziness. The physical therapists at TMH can help develop strategies to compensate for these changes, helping to reduce your risk of falls.
If you notice that your balance is significantly declining over time or if you have had a fall, there are other factors that can play a role, such as medication side effects, dizziness, vertigo and neuropathy. Therefore, it is important to notify your doctor of any changes in your symptoms.
The Memorial Hospital is proud to offer a full team of master and doctorate level physical and occupational therapists in their new and improved facilities at 473 Yampa Ave.
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