Falling is not normal, but it does become more common with aging, if preventative measures are not taken. Falling is the number one cause of fractures and loss of independence, with more than 25% of adults over 65 years old experiencing a fall each year. While many falls do not lead to serious injury, there is a heightened risk of hip fracture and traumatic brain injury. Additionally, someone who sustains one fall is twice as likely to experience a second fall. If you have fallen and injured yourself, it is important to contact your doctor immediately.
The good news is, there are ways to decrease your chance of falling. Improving strength, balance, and making a few easy household modifications are simple ways to reduce the risk factors often associated with a fall. Staying active is one of the best ways to maintain strength, mobility, and balance, and walking is one of the healthiest and most convenient ways to stay active.
Risk Factors, or signs that you may need to incorporate fall prevention activities into your daily routine, include:
Difficulty standing up from the floor or a chair
Tripping over objects in your home (pets included!)
Loss of balance or having to catch yourself to avoid falling
Increased dizziness with positional changes
Difficulty with or changes in vision
Trouble walking at night
Unsteadiness going up or down stairs
Significant fear of falling
Feeling unbalanced while walking
Difficulty changing directions
Decreased feeling in your feet or legs
If you have one or more of these risk factors, it is important to implement specific exercises and home modifications in order to avoid a fall.
Use trekking poles while walking
Place neon tape on stairs that are difficult to see
Install grab Bars in your shower/bathroom
Use nightlights in dark hallways or rooms
Install handrails in stairways
Remove rugs that are a tripping hazard
Place a bell on your pet’s collar
Monitor and manage your blood pressure
Wear supportive shoes with a firm grip on the bottom
Exercises (all should be performed in front of a sturdy countertop or table in case you need the support of your hands):
*The exercises listed below become progressively more difficult. Do not continue if you feel unsafe.
Stand up tall with weight distributed equally through both legs. Shift most of your weight over to one foot, pause for a second, and then shift over to the opposite foot.
Begin with both feet on the ground, hip width apart. Raise up onto your toes and then rock back onto your heels.
Stand with both feet on the ground, hip width apart. Lift one leg off of the ground to bend the hip and knee, bringing your knee forward. Hold this stance for one second, then lower down and repeat on the other side.
Standing with feet together
Stand with the insides of your feet together, as close to touching as you can get them.
Standing with one foot in front of the other
As close to ‘walking on a tightrope’ that you can manage.
Standing with head turns
Hold onto something supportive and turn your head from side to side while keeping your feet planted on the ground.
Standing with eyes closed
Hold onto something supportive and stand in a comfortable stance with your eyes closed.
Standing on one leg
Hold onto something supportive and stand on one leg while holding the other in front of you.
Staggered stand rocking back and forth
Place one foot in front of the other in your normal stepping position. Rock forward to the front foot, lifting the back heel as you do so. Then shift to the back leg, lifting the front toes. Continue for 30 seconds, then switch your feet and repeat.
Standing on a pillow
Stand with both feet on a pillow or couch cushion.
Standing reaching across body
Stand with feet hip width apart. Reach your right hand across your body to the left as far as you can. Then, reach your left hand across your body to the right as far as you can. For added difficulty, perform while standing on a pillow or cushion.
Standing turning in a circle
Stand facing a table or counter. Turn in a circle by stepping clockwise. Repeat in a counterclockwise direction.
If the above exercises seem too daunting or feel unsteady, there is the option to improve your balance through chair Exercises:
Sitting with your hands in your lap
Sit up tall in a chair with your back away from the backrest. Place your hands in your lap, so there is nothing helping you to balance other than your posture muscles.
Marching legs while sitting
Sit as in the first exercise. Lift one foot off of the floor with your knee bent, and then put it down. Repeat on the opposite side.
Trunk twists while sitting
Sit as in the first exercise. Reach your right hand across your body to the left as far as you can. Then, reach your left hand across your body to the right as far as you can. For added difficulty, perform with a pillow or cushion under your feet.
Reaching to opposite toe while sitting
Sit as in the first exercise. Reach your right hand toward your left foot as far as you can. Then, reach your left toward your right foot as far as you can. For added difficulty, perform with a pillow or cushion under your feet.
Sitting on a pillow
Sit as in the first exercise with a pillow or cushion under your hips.
Seated Punches forward and toward ceiling
Sit as in the first exercise. Raise one arm up toward the ceiling in a punching motion. Then, lower that arm and repeat on the opposite side.
It’s important to note that this is not a comprehensive list of exercises, and each fall-prevention plan should be tailored to an individual person’s needs. Contact your local physical therapist for more information or to get started on your personalized fall-prevention program.
HAP Balanced Living. “Fall Prevention: Simple Tips for Older Adults.” Balanced Living, 2021 Health Alliance Plan of Michigan. 28 August 2018. https://www.hap.org/blog/2018/08/fall-prevention
Important Facts About Falls. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC 24/7: Saving Lives, Protecting People. 10 February 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html
Liparoto Blayne. “Fight the Fall: Having Good Balance is a Critical Component of Healthy Aging.” Better PT, Better PT 2019. https://www.betterpt.com/post/fight-the-fall-having-good-balance-is-a-critical-component-of-healthy-aging