Did you know that the risk of falling increases more than five times between the ages of 50 and 75? In fact, falls are the #1 cause of injury related deaths for people over the age of 65. That's scary.
We can, however, understand why this is the case and learn ways to decrease our risk. First, let's take a look at what is going on in our body and brain as we age that increases our risks of falls and second, steps we can take to reduce our chances.
Why Prime-Timers are More Prone to Accidents
1. Brain and balance will be off - As we age, the eye-muscle-brain communication pathway slows down. We experience diminished proprioception, which means the ability to adjust our posture to compensate for changing surfaces underfoot. For example, if there is a toy in the floor, you know you need to step over it, but the relay from your eye to your brain to your reaction is slowed, and therefore, you trip.
Also, the structures within the middle ear that helps us maintain balance, weakens with age. The best way to keep our proprioception and sense of balance in tact is to keep our muscles and nerves strong through reactive games, like Ping-Pong.
2. Your senses decline with age - Unfortunately, this means that you may not see, hear, or smell an accident coming. Because our senses don't work as well as they used to AND the fact that our proprioception and balance are off, we may not respond as we would in our younger years. We may not see the object in the floor, or that last step on the stairs, and we may not hear a ball rolling on the floor toward us thrown by our favorite grandchild. You may not smell something burning in the kitchen, but when you do and you try to react, the weakened other senses come into play.
3. You may develop an accident-prone heart - Many prime-time falls occur when people quickly change position, such as from sitting to standing or hopping out of bed. Normally, a sudden change in position, from down to up, gives a signal to the heart to pump more blood to the brain. Yet, as we age, this signaling system weakens, causing something called orthostatic hypotension, or postural hypotension. When you change position, the blood pressure drops, blood flow to the brain is insufficient, and you get light-headed, or even faint and fall. It's also important to note that postural hypotension is made worse by plaque buildup in arteries, atherosclerosis, and diabetes.
Now that you understand what is going on in the body and brain that increases the risk of falling, let's now take a look at things you can do to decrease your risk.
6 Ways to Protect Yourself from Falling
1. Move slow as you get up and go - Always change position slowly to give your heart advance warning that your brain needs adjustment of blood flow.
2. Keep fit - The stronger your muscles and bones are and the more muscle-coordination activities you do to improve your balance, the lower your risk of falling and of being injured if you do fall. Fit people suffer fewer fractures.
3. Light your way - Keep a nightlight on for those middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom. Don't walk around in the dark! Even better, before going to bed, make sure the path is clear from your bed to the bathroom and from your bed to the kitchen, or wherever you might get a drink of water.
4. See where you're going - Make sure your glasses fit the activity. Bifocals, for example, may help your reading, but can blur your path while walking.
5. Fall-proof your home - Here are just a few ideas:
** Make sure you have nonskid backings on all your rugs
**Keep entrances and hallways well lit - especially around stairs
**Keep floors clear of clutter
**Cover any temporary extension cords you are using with rugs or duct tape
** Install nonslip adhesive strips on the floor of your shower or bathtub
**Avoid placing decorative bed pillows on the floor when going to sleep
6. Drink alcohol for taste, not effect - Limit yourself to no more than one drink per day. A drink is equivalent to 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.