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Q: I just turned 70 and am worried about falling, what can I do to stay safe?

The risk for falling does increase as we get older but thankfully there are many simple things you can do to decrease your risk for falls. Some people may think that staying at home and sitting on the couch is the best way to stay safe but believe it or not, inactivity increases your risk for falls. Staying active helps keep your muscles and joints from becoming stiff and improves your balance and stability. You don’t need to run a marathon to stay active, talk with your doctor to find out what type of activities are safe for you and come up with a plan to incorporate these activities into your daily routine.

Of course, it is also important to have a safe environment both at home and at your family’s home, or anywhere you regularly spend time. The pathways in your house should be clear and free of clutter. This might mean having someone help you rearrange furniture and electric cords and picking things up off the floor. Even if you have stepped over that lamp cord 1000 times and know how to avoid it, it is a good idea to clear cords from your path- it just takes one time for you to forget that the cord is there or for your pet to get in the way and cause you to trip over that cord. The best thing to do is make your home as safe as possible so you are prepared for the unexpected.

Rugs and carpets that slide can also be a hazard, adding a non-slip backing or other means of securement can help. Pay extra attention to carpeted stairs; any carpeting on stairs that has come loose should be resecured. You should also have non-slip rugs in your bathrooms for getting out of the shower or bath, and non-slip mats in your showers and baths. Grab bars in bathrooms and secure handrails on stairs are also key ingredients to home safety.

It is common as you get older to have to get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. This is a common time when people fall. Having a safe, middle-of-the-night potty plan can help. Make sure you have good lighting next to the bed and all the way to the bathroom so you can get there safely. You don’t want to have to walk in the dark to the closest light switch so this may mean putting a lamp next to your bed. Choose a potty-plan that makes sense for you. A voice-activated light switch is a great option for some. Some voice-activated technology lets you not only turn on lights but can also call a family member or 911 with a voice command from anywhere in the room, so if you were to fall, you could make a phone call without having to move.

When you do get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, don’t rush. It takes our blood pressure a minute to catch up when we go from lying down to standing; changing positions too fast can cause dizziness which can lead to a fall. Don’t just go from lying down to standing straight-up. Instead, sit up in bed first and let your body adjust. Then wait at the edge of the bed with your feet on the floor before standing. Once you’re standing, you may need to take another pause to let your body adjust before you start walking. If you use a cane or a walker, even just occasionally, keep it next to your bed to help you get to the bathroom safely at night. Some people do best with a bedside commode or urinal at night- tools that help them take a midnight bathroom break without having to walk so far.

The condition of getting dizzy when standing up is called postural hypotension, and it is a common condition. Certain medications and medical diseases can contribute to postural hypotension. It is important to let your doctor know if you are having these symptoms, they may be able to help adjust some of your medications. Many medications are weight-based so even if you have been on a medication for years, the dose might need to change if your weight has changed. Also, get your eyes checked yearly, as your glasses prescription might need an adjustment. Being able to see clearly is an essential factor in preventing falls.

Staying hydrated is another habit you can do every day to reduce your risk for falls. Especially in these summer months when it gets hot out. Our bodies help us cool down in the heat by letting water evaporate from our bodies. Our bodies are so good at this, that we don’t even realize this is happening! This is called insensible water loss and can contribute to dehydration in the heat. Stay hydrated- ask your doctor what your target water intake should be each day.

Finally, is your kitchen set up for safety? Make sure your kitchen supplies are within arms’ reach. Having to use a chair or even a step stool to get to upper shelving can be hazardous. I know storage space is valuable so if you absolutely do not want to lose your out-of-reach storage space, consider what items you only use when you have company. Then you can ask for help to get those items down from those out-of-reach places.

If you or someone you know is worried about falling, the hospital will be holding free classes on how to make changes to reduce your risk for falls including strategies to increase activity. Email MHSinfo@kp.org or call 808-264-1082 to find out more information.