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Health Answers

What can elderly people do to prevent falls?

Q. What can elderly people do to prevent falls?

A. Adele Pike, director of education for the Visiting Nurse Association of Boston, says that the organization’s fall prevention program for seniors focuses on four main areas. One is the strength of the legs and sense of balance. A physician, nurse, physical therapist, or occupational therapist can recommend exercises that specifically strengthen muscles and sensory systems that help you stay upright.

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The second is to look at medications you’re taking; do any of them cause dizziness, loss of balance, or a drop in blood pressure while standing? Many older adults take multiple medications that could have cumulative effects.

The third step is to evaluate your home and make adjustments for safety, such as removing clutter and scatter rugs that can cause you to trip, replacing low toilets with higher ones that make it easier to sit and stand, and installing sturdy grab bars in the bathroom. Consider hazards outside the home, too. “Many times we can’t adapt the outside the environment, but we can teach patients and families what to be attuned to,” Pike says, such as uneven sidewalks, or short crosswalk lights that might prompt you to rush.

The final area of concern is fear of falling. When an older person is overly afraid of falls, “they tend to maintain a much more sedentary lifestyle,” Pike says. “All that does is cause the lower extremities to get weak.” Physical therapy can help someone who is hesitant regain confidence in daily activities.

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