Falls are not a normal part of the aging process. They can happen as a result of chronic disease, medication side effects, or from hazards — like loose rugs — in the home.
As you age, the risk of falls increases. According to the National Institute of Health, more than one in three adults aged 65 and older falls per year, and these incidents send 1.6 million older adults to the emergency room with fall related injuries.
But despite your best efforts, sometimes falls happen. Rushina Patel, a physical therapist from Ideal Home Care, taught attendees of Kendal at Home’s Healthy Aging Day how to remain safe after a fall.
Here is what you need to know about how you can safely get up after a fall.
Balance issues can be a common cause of falls. If you notice you’re having issues with your balance or know you have a bad knee or back, talk to your doctor about ways you can improve these issues.
“If you notice you're starting to trip more, you're falling more, those are times to start working on balance and strengthening,” Patel said.
Having an increased base of support — or a wider foot stance — can help prevent falls, she explained.
“Ninety percent of the time, you won't fall if you can get that foot out and get your center of gravity between your feet again. To practice creating a wider stance, just stand, and step out and work on that ability to step. You want to be able to step forward, you want to be able to step backward, and out to the side with both feet. And that's something you can do in your home, just work on standing there start losing your balance, step that foot forward.”
How to Get Up After a Fall
After a fall, assess your condition and surroundings. If you’re able, attempt to use your arms and legs to move across the floor until you reach a steady object like a chair or table — Patel refers to this as “schooching.” If you’ve injured your hip for example, you’ll want roll onto your uninjured side and scooch to a stable object you can use to pull yourself up.
“Find what you can to help get your limbs moving...Utilize blankets, utilize towels, whatever you have around you,” Patel said.
Thanks to technology advancements, many older adults now have access to cellphones and/or emergency services at a touch of a button. If you’re unable to get up, try and make your way to your phone or emergency services button.
If you have an emergency services button, it’s important to remember to always wear it, said Patel.
“Don't take it off when you go to take a shower, because falls happen in the bathroom and if it's sitting in your bedroom, it’s not going to help,” she said.
For falls that happen in the bathroom, avoid pulling yourself up onto the bathtub because the edges are not wide enough to safely sit on.
“If you go a little too far, you’ll fall backwards into the bathtub. So always try to get to the toilet,” Patel said. “If you have a shower chair that extends out, that would be a good place to try and get up and sit on because you can actually push on that pretty well. If you have a grab-bar on the edge of your bathtub, you can try to use that to help push yourself up a little bit as well. Anything to kind of give yourself some leverage. But always think about too, is that surface movable? Do I want to pull or do I want to push?”
The Importance of Muscle Strength
Muscle strength plays an important role in being able to get up after a fall, said Patel. A variety of exercises can help ensure your muscles are able to do what they need to do to get you up after a fall.
Possible exercises include:
- Exercises targeting shoulder muscles and arms
- Counter pushups
- Exercises targeting back muscles
- Pulling up out of the bathtub after you’ve finished a bath
- Ankle exercises
“A lot of people forget, you have to have strong arms. You have to be able to push. So working the shoulder muscles, and your back muscles is important. You can even do counter push-ups, where, on your kitchen counter hold the edge of it, push in, and push back out,” she explained.
Getting the proper exercise, ensuring your home is free of fall hazards, and even practicing for a fall are simple ways you can help prevent falls. Following the tips above and maintaining or beginning an exercise routine are easy ways to help you remain safe and independent. For more tips on fall prevention, download this handy checklist.