As we age, the single greatest risk to our retirement independence is falling. Did you know one out of every 3 adults over the age of 65 falls each year? And if you’ve fallen once, you are two to three times more likely to fall again. 95% of hip fractures and many traumatic brain injuries are caused by falls, and these injuries make getting around or living independently difficult.
Many of us envision a retirement where we can enjoy a glass of wine on our patio or pluck a fresh tomato from our garden. What we don’t envision is a fall that threatens our ability to be physically independent in retirement. Here’s why fall prevention is so important and ways to minimize your risk of falling.
Are You at a Higher Risk for Falls?
As we get older, our risk of falling increases. Falls are usually caused by a combination of issues. Risk factors that increase the likelihood of falling can be divided into three categories:
- Environmental risk factors include hazards in and around the home such as uneven or broken steps, steps without railings on both sides and poor lighting. Even your canine friend can be a fall hazard that you might trip over or be pulled down by.
- Biological risk factors include balance issues, muscle weakness, chronic health conditions, nutrient deficiency, vision changes or loss, and loss of sensation in the feet.
- Behavioral risk factors include inactivity, medication causing confusion or dizziness, and alcohol use.
Experts recommend a multi-pronged approach to fall prevention. Usually two or more risk factors cause a fall. For example, someone misses a step while going up dimly lit stairs and falls as a result of not having the strength to hold on to the railings. Along with eliminating hazards around the home, we should also focus on addressing and/or correcting physical and behavioral issues.
Modify Your Home to Make It Safer
Being proactive about home modifications can help you avoid accidents and falls and also increase the comfort and function of your home. We recommend remodeling early in your retirement when you have the energy and resources to complete the projects. According to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, home modifications and repairs can prevent 30-50% of all falls and accidents. The following low-cost, easy fixes can help with fall prevention:
- Remove tripping hazards like loose rugs and clutter;
- Add motion censored lighting around the house;
- Install grab bars in the bathroom and handrails on both sides of the steps;
- Rearrange furniture to ensure easy movement through living space.
For more extensive remodels, you might want to work with a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist or an architect who is familiar with home modifications that make your home safer and more comfortable for your retirement years. Incorporating universal designs that people of all ages can enjoy increases both the livability and resale value of your home. Some ideas include no-step entries, single-floor living, reachable controls and switches, and wider doors and hallways.
Other Ways to Prevent Falls
Our bodies need more maintenance as we age. By exercising regularly and using the proper aids, we can reduce the likelihood of falling. Some suggestions by experts include:
- Develop an exercise routine that focuses on improving balance and maintaining leg strength. Tai chi classes and weight-bearing exercises are quite effective.
- Take calcium and vitamin D supplements to reduce the risk of hip or other bone fractures.
- Discuss with your doctor alternative medications if your current prescriptions cause dizziness or drowsiness.
- Visit the eye doctor once a year and keep your eyeglass prescriptions updated. Bi- or trifocal lenses increase the risk of falls when walking up or down stairs.
- Use walking aids when needed.
While home modifications can be completed over a short period of time to eliminate many of the risks, maintaining a regular exercise routine and partnering with healthcare professionals to ensure your wellbeing are lifelong endeavors. We at Blankinship & Foster can help you develop a comprehensive retirement plan including ways to safely age in place. Contact us today to learn more about what we can do for you.
*Information provided here references material from Working with Older Adults – A Professional’s Guide to Contemporary Issues in Aging, Published by Society of Certified Senior Advisors®