By Pat FitzGerald and Barbara Bock, wellness classes volunteer leaders, Southern Maine Agency on Aging
Fear of falling is common among adults 60 years and over. And with summer ending and fall slowly coloring the leaves on trees, some people – both newcomers to Maine and those who have lived here their whole lives – are worrying about the coming cold rainy days, freezing morning temperatures, and wet, slippery streets. Older people know that falling could result in injury, the prospect of long-term recovery, high medical bills, and loss of independence. But there are some easy steps all of us can take, regardless of age, to prevent falls.
1. Stay active: Find an activity that you enjoy and that keeps you moving. Being active will help you increase your flexibility, improve your balance, and strengthen your heart. So take a walk with a friend or neighbor and get to know the area where you live a little better, join a community gardening group, or play some light soccer with some children..
2. Talk to your doctor: Be honest with your doctor. It is OK to let your doctor know if you have fallen in the past year. This does not mean they will take away your independence. It means they can look for the cause of your falls. Working with your doctor can keep you safe and independent.
3. Vision and hearing checks: People with mild hearing loss are nearly three times as likely to fall. Having the right prescription eyeglasses and/or hearing aid, if necessary, means that you are less likely to fall as you gain improved awareness of your surroundings.
4. Medication reviews: Taking three or more medications automatically increases your risk of falling. Ask your doctor to regularly review your medications and do not be afraid to ask your pharmacist to explain how each medicine impacts your balance.
5. Home safety: Minor home improvements can help make your home safer and decrease your chances of falling at home. Examples are better lighting in the hallway and grab bars in the bathrooms. Resources are available to older Mainers to cover expenses associated with home modifications. The five regional Agencies on Aging that work with older adults and adults with disabilities in different parts of Maine can connect you with local resources to make your home safer. Visit maine4a.org for contact information for the Agency on Aging for your location.
6. Group classes for balance: One more step to help manage the possibility of falls is to enroll in classes specifically designed for older adults. Through gentle exercises focusing on strength and balance, participants learn different techniques of moving around that reduce the chance of falling. A Matter of Balance and Tai Chi for Health and Balance are classes offered through different community organizations, including the five Agencies on Aging.