By Rosemarie Jaworski, PT
As the saying goes, “a stumble may prevent a fall.” When it comes to balance, a stumble may indeed be a wake-up call that all is not well. Research has shown that loss of balance and mobility is NOT a fact of life as we grow older. Those individuals most at risk for falling can be identified and helped.
Take the Balance Test: Do you have black-outs, take unnecessary risks (like getting on the roof), numbness or loss of sensation in your feet, use a walker or wheelchair or need assistance to get around? Have you fallen in the past year or had a stroke or other neurological problem that affects your balance? Do you take 4 or more medications daily, feel unsteady on stairs or when walking on level ground, bumpy surfaces (like your backyard) or note dizziness, vertigo or imbalance at any time of the day or night? Do you feel unsteady when walking in an area with low light?
You could have a balance problem if you can answer “YES” to one or more of the above questions.
What can you do to avoid a fall? Many simple, inexpensive things are easy to implement. Use light-sensitive nightlights in the bathroom, bedroom and hallway and/or motion detector lights that turn on automatically in your living area and do the same near the entrances. Install light switches at the top and bottom of stairs. Make sure your floor coverings are safe. Get rid of shag carpeting and throw rugs. If you really must have throw rugs, place rubberized non-slip pads under them or secure them with double-sided tape so they don’t slip. Clean up clutter, including newspapers, shoes, clothes and grandchildrens’ toys. (Doesn’t this sound just like your mother?) Remove all cords from walking paths. Install sturdby grab bars next to the toilet and bath/shower. Towel racks do NOT count as they can pull out of the wall. Use double-sided carpet tape on the bathroom rug. Place non-slip mats or stripbs in the tub or shower floor. Sit on a shower seat when you take a shower and consider an elevated toilet seat to make it easier to stand back up. In the kitchen, move items you use the most to drawers and cabinets that are at your waist or chest height so you don’t have to stand on a chair to reach them. Of course, we are all shorter than we used to be, so a very sturdy step stool with rubber tips and a back or long handle to hold onto is a worthwhile investment. Use a rubber mat in front of the sink and always wipe up any liquids that get on the floor, even small drops. Install handrails on all stairways and keep stairways clear of clutter. That means nothing on the steps. EVER! Adding glow-in-the-dark tape to edges of steps, both indoors and outdoors will make them very easy to see at all times.
Some of the above are very simple and some take a little more effort to implement, but how about taking up the offer from younger neighbors, your children and especially grandchildren when they say, “Let me know if you need anything,” or “How about if i do that for your this weekend?” Make your list, or cut out this article, underline the things you would like done and show it to them. You would make them very happy and you would feel, and be, safer.
So think about the last time you had a little stumble, and remember that it was your wake up call to avoid a fall.
Rosemarie Jaworski, PT, is a Certified Vestibular Therapist at Jaworski Physical Therapy in Elyria, Ohio.