Free Fall
By Marilyn Slaby

One of our boomer neighbors took a spill early this fall.  He was hurrying down the street and looking at his cell phone as he walked.  He stepped off the curb and went face-down in the street where he lay for 30 minutes until someone saw him.  He jammed the vertebrae in his neck and couldn’t feel his fingers or move his arms thereby making it impossible to dial for help.

He was in the hospital for a few days before coming home with a neck brace, and faces possible surgery – to be determined once the swelling goes down.  His fall has impacted his life greatly; it has kept him from working.  He and his wife also care for her mother in their home.  As you can imagine, his wife is doing twice as much caregiving now.  When I spoke with her, she looked overwhelmed.

We all face fall risks, but as we age, the chances of falling increase as do the incidences of life altering injury.  Muscle sensory receptors that aren’t as sharp as they used to be, disturbances in the inner ear balance mechanisms, and diminishing eyesight, can all contribute to a heightened risk.

Though we can’t dodge all the changes our bodies face, we can do our part to keep those declines to a minimum.

Take steps now to prevent falls and avoid the risk as much as possible.  Statistics show physically active individuals and people who exercise are less likely to fall and if they do, their injuries aren’t as serious.  They feel more confident in their ability, too, thereby decreasing their fear of falling.

  1. You’ll have stronger bones if you engage in a little strength and balance training.  If your balance is better, you might avoid the fall all together.  Yoga, weight resistance, and even walking can all help if you do it at least three times a week – for the rest of your life.
  2. Invest in night-lights to avoid those dark, shadowy spots in the darkened house.  Our eyes take longer to adjust to the darkness as we age.
  3. Remove area rugs or at least use non-skid pads under them so they won’t slip and slide away from you.  Check the edges for fraying.
  4. Talk with your pharmacist; could the medications you currently take have the potential to contribute to a fall due to dizziness, fatigue, weakness, or disorientation?  Maybe your doctor can prescribe another drug with fewer side effects.
  5. Keep your home clutter free – especially the floors.  Keep walkways and paths cleared outside.
  6. Install grab bars near showers, bathtubs and toilets.  Those supports need to be weight-bearing and properly installed so they don’t tear out of the wall.  I know one client who grabbed a standard towel bar when she felt herself falling.  It came away from the wall; she fell and found herself transported to the hospital.
  7. Clean up spills quickly and efficiently.  A little grease or oil on the floor in the kitchen can take you down fast!
  8. Don’t go barefoot.  Wearing just socks indoors or wearing slippers without rubber soles increases your fall risk.
  9. Oh – stop walking – stand still – when you’re looking at your cell phone or any electronic device.

My mind is still adjusting to the fact I’m not as agile as I used to be.  If you’re like me, you haven’t thought about it much, either.

There are very few free falls out there – we usually pay dearly.

Marilyn, owner of There For You, is a consultant to baby boomers regarding issues of aging with a focus on senior citizens.  Marilyn created her company in 2005 after continually noticing the shortfall of reliable, trustworthy help for baby boomers who were facing challenges as they tried to balance the issues of working, caring for their own families, and tending to the needs of their aging parents.  Read some of the articles she’s written on her blog, Navigating the River of Aging.