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Q&A: Fall prevention

| Safety | Healthy You | Aging Well

Woman cleaning leaves out of gutter on a ladder.

I’m getting older and hear people talk about fall prevention. Why is fall prevention important, and what should I do to stay safe?

Each year millions of adults fall, sending three million people to emergency departments for treatment and more than 800,000 to the hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One out of five falls results in a serious injury, such as broken bones or a head injury.

Prevent falls at any age

Falling isn't only a concern for older people. PeaceHealth emergency departments typically see a surge in fall-related visits in autumn and winter as more people climb up ladders to clean roof gutters, hang holiday lights and prune trees. 

When the weather turns icy, a simple walk down the driveway or across a parking lot can be treacherous. Consider buying boots with heavy tread or invest in snow grips to give you more traction.

Steps to prevent falls

Here are some key steps you can take to prevent falls, in general, no matter where you are:

  • If you have fallen, talk with your doctor and develop a strategy for preventing falls. (More than one out of four older people fall each year, but half don't tell their doctor, according to the CDC.)
  • Ask your pharmacist or provider to review your prescriptions and over-the-counter medications to make sure they aren't making you drowsy or dizzy, which increases your risk of falling.
  • Have your eyes checked at least once a year. You might need to update your eyeglass prescription or be treated for conditions such as glaucoma or cataracts. Poor or failing eyesight makes it harder for you to see, which also puts you at risk for falling.
  • Take up an exercise class such as tai chi to improve your balance and strengthen your legs. (See Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance classes in Oregon and Southwest Washington.) 

Make your home safer

Here are things you can do to make your home safer:

  • Have good lighting indoors and out.
  • Remove trip hazards (shoes, rugs, clothes, toys, etc.) from your floors, stairways, landings, bathrooms, bedrooms and hallways.
  • Wear shoes with traction, not socks or slippers, inside and outside of your house.
  • Make rugs secure or remove them altogether.
  • Buy products such as laundry detergent and milk in small sizes so you have a hand free to steady yourself, if needed.
  • Keep kitchen and laundry room items within easy reach so you don’t have to get up on chairs or step stools to retrieve them.
  • Install grab bars in your showers or bathroom. A raised seat on your toilet can also help.

When to seek treatment after a fall

Seeking treatment depends on the severity of the fall. Use the following guidelines as a starting point to help make a decision:

  • If you aren’t able to get up after you’ve fallen, call 911 or an emergency contact.
  • If you’re sore hours later, consider going to urgent care to make sure nothing is broken or needs proactive treatment.
  • If you’re still in pain or sore a few days later, call your primary care provider to help develop a plan for treatment or pain relief.