My balance is not what it used to be. In fact, I’m a little envious of my friends in their seventies who still ride their motorcycles. I had to give mine up a few years ago after an ear infection left my balance just enough off that I had to think about every reaction. When you’re flying around at seventy miles an hour with nothing between you and eternity but your leathers, having to think about your actions means you are too slow. Well, I am anyway. I don’t want to lay down a bike. I don’t even want to fall out of bed!
As we get older, we tend to fall more. And as Hank Williams, Jr. Says about hangovers, falls hurt more than they used to. The more falls hurt, the more wary I become of falling. I’m not just being overly cautious or paranoid. According to American Family Physician, “Falls are the leading cause of injury-related visits to emergency departments in the United States and the primary [cause] of accidental deaths in persons over the age of 65 years.”
Some reasons we fall include balance issues (don’t I know it!), environmental hazards (like pets, kids, or clutter), illness, medications or alcohol, vertigo, and vision problems.
If falls are so painful and dangerous, what can we do to avoid them? Of the listed causes, about the only categories we have any real control over are medications, alcohol, and environmental hazards.
We often think we don’t have control over the medications we take, but we really do. Medications are supposed to make us healthier. If your medications make you more likely to fall, dizzy, drowsy, or just less alert, discuss that fact with your doctor. Doctors usually have options—various medication or combinations of medications—that get to the same result. Each person’s body is different and reacts to medications differently. It may take several attempts to figure out what works best for your body.
Alcohol bridges the gap between medications and environmental factors. To paraphrase Hank again, “All my rowdy friends have fallen down.” I’m leaving alcohol in the environment and out of my body more often than I used to. I’ll still have a drink with dinner now and then, but that’s about the extent of it these days.
That leaves the environment. To help some elder tenants be safer, I recently installed grab rails in a bathtub and around toilets. My nephew applied non-skid tape to a slick bathtub. I’m thinking about building sidewalks between my house and garage to avoid uneven spots in the yard. And though it hurts my pride, I’m even considering a stair chair. Those stairs are getting longer and steeper every day—especially when I first wake up and haven’t had my coffee yet.
In the end, making our environments safer is up to us as individuals. Hearts Homes and Hands may not be able to do the handiwork needed to make your environment safer, but we can help you assess the risk of falling and recommend solutions. We can help with decluttering and keeping your environment cleaner, healthier, and safer.