It’s a Balancing Act: Preventing Slips and Falls

Thursday, March 14, 2013

 

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Winter in New England is a beautiful wonderland, but it is notorious for treacherous weather.  With this comes a higher risk of slips and falls. We are all at risk, but your risk increases with age. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 adults over age 65 will fall each year. Falls with injury can significantly decrease your independence and mobility. With a little preparation and knowledge, you can reduce your risk.

Balance is essentially your ability to stay upright.  Your body takes in information about your environment and position via sensation, vision, and the vestibular system (the inner ear), and then reacts.  Medical and physical problems can interfere with this.  For example, vision problems and neuropathy limit our ability to take in environmental information, while changes in posture, joint movement, and strength can alter our ability to react appropriately.

For all ages, the following tips can help keep you safe:

  • Footwear: Ice is slippery! Wear shoes that grip the ground. Consider traction devices such as Yaktraks or Stabilicers to help you keep your footing. Add a cane tip designed for use on ice. Keep a shovel and salt right by your door for easy access to clear your stairs and walkways.
  • Lighting: Remember, vision affects balance! Good lighting is important both indoors and out.  Also, install handrails near any steps.
  • Indoors: Slips and falls can occur when clutter is present. Clear the floors, including any throw rugs. Clean spills promptly. Be aware of melting snow from your shoes. Avoid walking in socks.
  • Exercise! Staying strong and flexible allows your body to react normally to challenges.
  • Medications:  Some medications affect balance. Talk with your doctor about any concerns.

Have you tried all of these strategies and still feel off-balance? Do you wonder if your balance is normal? For a quick test, stand next to a counter and try to stand on one leg. If you are <60, you should be able to stand >40 seconds. If you are 60-80, you should be able to stand 17-27 seconds. This is one of many tests used to screen for balance problems. At New England Sinai Hospital, physical therapists will assess your balance and work with you to reduce your risk of falls. If you feel as though you are walking on a tightrope, come in and let us help you back onto solid ground. Learn more about services for physical therapy in Stoughton or call 781-297-1383.


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