By: April Nelson, DPT
We have all tripped or fallen at some point in our lives, but if you frequently feel unsteady, it is worth addressing. As we age, our bones become more brittle, our skin becomes thinner, and we are more likely to sustain an injury from a fall. In this article, you’ll find information about making your home safer for you and your loved ones by using hand rails and assistive devices, clearing walkways, and addressing your own health and balance.
Stairs are one of the biggest issues for patients in the hospital who are trying to get home after an injury. Adding handrails to all of the stairs in your home can decrease your fall risk. (Don’t forget about the stairs leading into your home too.) Sometimes a ramp is the safest option. Also consider having everything you need to live on one level of your home to limit your stair usage. Many people wait until they are in the hospital and can’t safely demonstrate stairs before addressing this issue.
There are changes to consider inside your home as well. Consider making your walkways safer by removing rugs and cords. Wearing shoes with backs on them instead of house slippers, which can easily cause tripping, is also helpful in preventing falls. Be careful around small pets; their movements can be unpredictable and lead to a fall. For getting up at night, make sure you have nightlights or a flashlight by the bed. It’s a better idea to turn the lights on and risk waking up your significant other than having a fall from walking in the dark.
If you find yourself frequently holding on to furniture or other people to avoid losing your balance, it may be time to consider an assistive device. It isn’t safe to hold on to furniture or other objects in your home, often these objects are unstable. There is a risk they could fall on top of you, or become unbalanced, and cause you to fall. Instead of relying on random furniture, an assistive device (such as a cane or walker) is meant to help with balance. There are a variety of assistive devices available on the market, consult with your doctor or physical therapist to find the best one for you. It is also important to have the assistive device height fitted to you. If an assistive device is too short, it can make you lean forward and thus alter your balance further.
Consider the role your health plays with your balance. There are a variety of causes of unsteadiness. Talk to your doctor about what medications you are taking, some of these may cause dizziness and can be adjusted. Other health problems like vertigo and orthostatic hypotension can lead to balance issues. Physical therapy plays an important role in helping people with a variety of balance deficits. Therapy can provide information on necessary equipment, using assistive devices, teaching fall prevention methods, dizziness/vestibular treatment, and education on how to react if you do fall.
As a take home message from this article, if you have noticed changes in your balance, it is worth seeing a doctor to have it addressed. Consider having your balance checked, ask about side effects of your medications, use an assistive device if appropriate, add handrails or ramps to stairs, and clear your hallways. Remember that preventing a fall can be much easier than recovering from one. If you have questions about how to make your home a safer place, please contact Lucas County Health Center’s Physical Therapy Department at (641) 774-3213.