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Stand Tall: How to Prevent Falls

Treadmills, balloons and other tricks to help you keep your balance

Pain, canes and elevators

Loss of balance, weak muscles, impaired vision, medications and hazards in the home are most often blamed for falls.

And recent research has turned up other causes of falls and ways to address them, including:

  • Control pain: Chronic or severe pain can lead to falls in part because the body may alter posture and movement to adapt to the pain. “Older people may tend to minimize or dismiss pain,” but they shouldn’t, says Suzanne G. Leveille, professor of nursing at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and lead author of a November study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers found that those with severe pain were 77 percent more likely to fall compared with those without pain. Work with your doctor to manage pain and treat the underlying conditions, such as arthritis, that cause the pain.
  • Test for inner-ear disorder: An inner-ear disorder called vestibular dysfunction may cause dizziness and affect balance. Your physician can test your balance by asking you to stand with your eyes open and then closed, first on the floor and then on a foam mat.
  • Adjust medications: While medications can increase the risk for falls, sedatives and antidepressants may be particularly dangerous, according to an analysis of findings from 22 studies.
  • Use canes properly: Improper use of canes and walkers sends 47,000 older people to the emergency room each year. Don’t borrow these devices; have a physical therapist fit you with one and teach you how to use the aid.
  • Don’t let pets trip you up: Pets are responsible for 21,000 older adults being treated for falls every year. Don’t let pets lie next to the bed or at the foot of your chair, and keep their toys off the middle of the floor.
  • Careful going up (or down): Navigating elevators can be tricky for older adults. Between 1990 and 2006, more than half of the 2,600 elevator injuries in adults over age 65 that were severe enough to require a trip to the emergency room were the result of a slip, trip or fall, according to a new study. Take your time, don’t run for the elevator, and don’t stick an arm, a leg or a walker into a closing elevator door.

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