The likelihood of falling – with potentially serious consequences – increases in old age. About 30% of people over 65 fall at least once a year, according to Dr Clemens Becker, a specialist in clinical geriatrics.
Since bones tend to weaken with age, there's a greater risk of fractures after tripping and falling. A hip fracture, for example, can be life-threatening. Below, experts offer tips on fall prevention for older adults.
Stay In Shape
Getting plenty of exercise lowers the risk of falls. "Dancing, for example, improves balance," points out Becker, head physician at the Geriatric Rehabilitation Clinic of Robert Bosch Hospital in Stuttgart, Germany.
Callisthenics, hiking and swimming boost mobility and strengthen muscles. However, if you haven't previously engaged in sport activities, you should first consult your family doctor.
You don't have to go to a sports centre or gym – you can do exercises right at home. One good fall prevention exercise, says Susanne Schulz, head of the German Physiotherapy Association's (ZVK) working group on geriatrics, requires only a stable chair and weight cuffs.
To strengthen your leg muscles, strap the cuffs above your ankles, stand beside the back of the chair and hold on.
"Without bending forward at the waist or letting go of the chair, raise your knee towards your chest as high as you can," Schulz explains. Then lower your leg and raise the other knee in the same way. Do 10 repetitions for each leg.
Remove Tripping Hazards
Tripping hazards lurk in almost every home. Electrical cords that are loose or lying around should be secured or removed, for example. "Loose rugs can be made safer with a slip-resistant backing," suggests Erhard Hackler, executive director of the German Senior Citizens League (DSL).
You should use non-slip mats in your bathtub or shower, which can be made even safer with hand grips. Proper lighting throughout the home is important as well.
Have Your Eyesight Tested
If your vision is poor, you're more likely to stumble and fall. Therefore, it's a good idea to visit an eye specialist once a year and have your vision tested. You may need a stronger pair of eyeglasses.
Stay On Solid Footing
Your shoes should be comfortable and – more importantly – provide sufficient support. "When you're buying shoes, make sure the soles are non-slip," Schulz says. The same goes for slippers and shower sandals. If you use a wheeled walker or cane, have it inspected – and if need be, adjusted – once a year.
Maintain A Healthy Diet
It's advisable to eat balanced, vitamin-rich meals in all phases of your life, of course, but getting sufficient vitamin D is particularly important for older adults. It helps to preserve bone mass and muscle tissue, and keep them resilient.
Since the daily requirement can't always be met with food, vitamin D can also be ingested in capsule or tablet form. Consult your doctor first.
Have Your Medications Checked
If you regularly take medications, you should have your family doctor check once a year whether you still need them and if the dosage is still correct. "An overly high dosage of sleeping pills, for instance, can cause you to still be groggy after getting up, possibly resulting in a fall," Becker warns. – dpa/Sabine Meuter