How to Proactively Prevent Falls

The possibility of a fall at home or in the community is very scary, and can actually cause a “fear of falling syndrome,” which increases a person’s anxiety level when walking or moving about. This can then cause tensing up of the posture, making it even more difficult to balance under more challenging situations.

According to Lisa Yonkers, physical therapist with Meritus Total Rehab Care, there are things that place someone at higher risk for falling. These include:

• A fall in the last year.

• Feeling unsteady.

• Holding on to furniture when walking at home.

• A loss of sensation in the feet.

• Taking medications to help with sleep or improve mood.

• A need to rush to the toilet.

Why am I losing my balance?

There are three systems in our bodies that help us keep good balance. The first system is the sensation and information that we get from our feet, which is proprioception.

“Proprioception is the sense that tells the body where the foot and leg are in space,” Yonkers said. “It gives your body awareness of the legs.”

The second system is our eyes. We visually depend on our vision to anticipate things in front of us as we move.

The third system is our inner ear, which senses the position of our head in space, along with acceleration and deceleration.

“When we experience balance problems, it can be a problem with one or several of these systems,” Yonkers said.

What to do

If you are experiencing problems with your balance, Yonkers said to speak with your physician about the various symptoms you might be having.

“There are also things that you can do to be proactive in preventing falls before they happen,” Yonkers said. “Following some tips can help you decrease the risk of falls, stay safe and maintain your independence.”

Start with a consistent routine of exercise, such as walking, tai chi or stretching. This is to make sure you remain strong and flexible and better able to respond to a challenge in balance.

Review with your physician the medications you are taking to be sure that the combination of prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines are not causing dizziness.

Have your vision checked every year and make sure you are wearing the correct prescription.

“Vision is a very important system that we use for balance,” Yonkers said.

Watch your step

Proper footwear is very important for safe balance. Yonkers said to make sure that your shoes fit snugly, have non-slip soles and a wide heel base. She suggested avoiding slippers, flip-flops, backless shoes, high heels, narrow-based shoes and shoes with smooth leather soles.

There are also changes that can be made in a home to help alleviate falling:

• Remove tripping hazards, such as throw rugs and clutter.

• Add handrails to stairs and bathrooms.

• Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower.

• Light up dark areas for when you need to get up at night and move about.

Falling is not a something that has to be part of our new normal as we age. Be sure to do everything you can do to preempt taking a bad fall in the future.

Learn more about rehabilitation services available at Meritus Total Rehab Care at Meritus Total Rehab Care offers two Hagerstown locations for patient services: Robinwood Professional Campus, suite 201, and in the Meritus Medical Plaza at 13620 Crayton Blvd.

This is a Your Health Matters column, part of a series of columns contributed by Meritus Health for publications in The Herald-Mail. September 2021.