Few things are more important to older adults than their independence — being able to do what they’d like when they’d like. But independence can be fleeting. Something unexpected, like a fall, can change everything. That’s why it’s important for older adults and their loved ones to take steps now to reduce the risk of a fall from happening.
Three million older people are treated in emergency rooms each year because of injuries caused by falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This includes broken bones and head injuries that can rob individuals of their freedom. Even having a fear of falling can restrict individuals from enjoying their life to the fullest.
Thankfully, many falls can be prevented with a little forethought and advance planning, according to Dr. JB Sobel, chief medical officer for Medicare, with Cigna, one of the nation’s largest insurers, which serves hundreds of thousands of older adults through its Medicare plans. Dr. Sobel recommends older adults take the following precautions to prevent falls and increase their peace of mind.
Get an annual eye exam. More than 12 million Americans aged 40 years and older experience vision impairment, putting them at greater risk of falling. It’s important for them to get an annual eye exam and make sure that they wear their glasses as instructed. Many Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, such as those offered through Cigna, provide some vision coverage at no extra cost.
Medications. People tend to take more medications as they age. Some of these medications, or a combination of medications, can cause dizziness or confusion, resulting in falls. Seniors should talk to their doctor or pharmacist about the medicines they are taking, including over-the-counter medications, regarding any interactions or unwanted side effects.
Do strength and balance exercises. Regular exercise strengthens muscles and improves balance and flexibility, helping reduce the chance of falls. Many MA plans include a fitness benefit at no extra cost. The benefit may include kits, bands and videos that can be used at home to help limit exposure to COVID-19, while achieving the benefits of exercise. Patients should always talk to their doctor about what exercises are right for them.
Limit alcohol consumption. Even a small amount of alcohol can affect a person’s balance and reflexes, leading to a fall. According to the National Institute on Aging, alcohol is a factor in 60% of falls in older Americans. For those individuals who may need it, Medicare covers alcohol abuse screening, counseling and treatment. Please be sure to discuss these types of issues with your doctor.
Ensure a safe home. Seniors can benefit from having grab bars installed inside and outside the bathtub or shower and next to the toilet, as well as having railings installed on both sides of stairs. Also, potential tripping hazards, such as floor mats, area rugs or extension cords, should be removed or taped down, both inside and outside the home.
Be careful with face masks. Wearing a face mask is a reality of the times, even after a COVID-19 vaccination, but face masks can restrict peripheral vision. When wearing a face mask, make sure it is snug covering both your nose and mouth, and take slow and measured steps. Those who wear glasses should wash the lenses with soap and water (if permitted by the manufacturer), shake off the excess liquid and allow them to air dry. This can help provide a fog barrier.
“Today, many older adults take good care of themselves and feel younger than they are,” Sobel said. “They are rightfully proud and don’t want to make concessions for their age. But a fall can happen to the best of us. So, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen.