Eight Fall Risks You Might Not Know About
Experts from the University of Michigan recently noted an increase in falls among older adults during the pandemic. This isn’t surprising. It’s been harder to stay in shape when a lot of our usual exercise opportunities have been inaccessible. And when it comes to navigating spaces, experts say we need to stay in practice. This is a good time to think about our fall risk, and do something about it!
It’s well-known that certain factors raise the risk of falling. These include low vision, muscle weakness, memory problems, inner ear disorders, low blood pressure, the side effects of medications, and hazardous conditions in our homes.
Recent research has also revealed other surprising factors that could raise your risk of falling:
- You’ve been diagnosed with hardening of the abdominal aorta. A 2021 study from Australia showed that this raises the risk of falls by 39%. The study authors suggest that during their bone density scans for osteoporosis, older adults could be screened for this problem as well.
- You wear bifocal or progressive lens glasses. Multifocal lenses are so convenient! But looking through the lower, close-up vision portion of the lens blurs the view of stairs and pathways as we walk. Ask your eye doctor to train you in safe use of these glasses—or, advise some experts, get a second pair of specs with distance-only lenses for walking outdoors.
- You have hearing problems. Here’s another reason to wear your hearing aids! Sound is one of the cues we use to navigate our environment. Experts also say hearing loss makes our brains work harder, so we aren’t as tuned in to safe walking. Even a buildup of earwax can cause balance problems.
- You love your smartphone. Whether it’s gaming, texting or even talking, our phones lure our attention away from safe walking. Most of us know not to use our phone while we’re driving, but it’s also safest to sit down or at least stop walking before focusing on your device.
- You’re stressed out. This is a common one these days! Just about everyone has been feeling stress during the pandemic. Researchers have found that stressful events, such as the loss of a loved one, financial problems or even political turmoil, can result in a significantly increased risk of falls, due both to distraction and to the effects of stress-related inflammation and depression.
- You hurry to the toilet. Urinary incontinence is something a lot of people don’t want to talk about—but it’s a fall risk when we rush to get to the bathroom on time, or must get up at night to go. Urinary tract infections also raise the risk. Incontinence and infections both are treatable.
- You own a dog or cat. Pets offer many health benefits, both physical and emotional. But emergency room personnel often treat patients with pet-related fall injuries. An overenthusiastic dog can knock us over or pull us off our feet, or we could trip over our cat. Enroll rambunctious dogs in a training class. And have Fido and Fluffy wear a bell on their collar so you’ll know they’re underfoot.
- Your home has fashionable lighting. Lighting design trends come and go, but seldom do they provide the best illumination for older eyes. When improving the lighting in the home of a senior with lower vision, talk to an adaptive lighting expert about the right amount and type of light to avoid glare and shadows. Install easily accessed switches.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Talk to your health care professional about your personal fall risk, and ways to lower that risk.