| Thu, Jan 30, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

Live a Balanced Life—and Help Prevent Falls

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

how to prevent fallsPreventing yourself from falls is important. Falls are a real health risk for aging adults: More than 33% of adults in the U.S. who are 65 or older fall each year. And nearly 1/3 of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries.1

Of course, one consequence of a fall can be a painful physical injury. But it’s also important to consider the long term effects a fall may have, such as a decrease in mobility, activity and emotional health. So, as with so much else, prevention is key.

Here are some steps you can take that can help prevent a fall.

1. Visit your doctor. At your yearly Medicare “Wellness” visit, you can talk with your doctor about a number of health factors that may affect your risk of falling. They may include:

  • Your history. If you’ve fallen before, your doctor may be able to help you see patterns that can help prevent future falls.
  • Your medications. Some drugs can have side effects and interactions with other drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter) that can increase the risk of a fall. Your doctor might advise some changes in your prescriptions.
  • Your health conditions. Your doctor may evaluate your eyes, muscle strength, balance and walking style to point to possible issues.

 2. Get your hearing checked. A 2012 clinical study showed that people with even mild hearing loss were almost three times as likely to have a history of falling. And the risk of falls went up with greater hearing loss.2 So it’s important to check your hearing, and get help if you need it.

Original Medicare Part B doesn’t cover routine hearing exams or hearing aids. However, a Medicare Advantage (Part C) or Medicare Supplement plan might help cover those costs. Make sure to check your plan materials to see what’s covered.

3. Keep moving. You may also help reduce your risk of falling by being active. Exercise that strengthens your muscles and increases your flexibility and balance is particularly helpful in a fall prevention program. Some examples of this kind of exercise include water walking, yoga, dancing and tai chi. Working with a physical therapist on specific exercises can also be a good way to increase your physical fitness.

Remember: Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

4. Look at your footwear. Walking in high heels, flip-flops, slippers or stocking feet can make it easier to trip and fall. Instead, choose sturdy shoes that fit your feet, and have nonskid soles and laces. And, since your shoe size can change as you age, make sure to get your feet measured each time you buy shoes.

5. Update your living space. There’s a lot you can do to make your home a safer place for you.

  •  Remove tripping hazards. Remove boxes, papers, electrical cords and other items from where you walk. Secure area rugs to the floor, or remove them altogether. Repair loose floorboards and carpeting. And use nonslip mats in your bathtub or shower.
  •  Let there be light. Make sure your home is well lit, and that any burned-out bulbs have been replaced. Keep a lamp near your bed for middle-of-the-night needs, and place night lights in your bedroom, bathroom and hallways. Make sure to turn on the lights when using the stairs. And clear pathways to all light switches.
  •  Make some changes. You may wish to add hand rails for both sides of any stairway, and nonslip treads for any wood steps. Grab bars for the shower or tub are a good addition, as is a raised toilet seat.

While these measures may seem like a lot all at once, start by talking to your doctor and making a few small changes at a time. Remember that an investment in fall prevention is an investment towards keeping your independence as you age.

1Falls Prevention Learning Center, AARP Health & Wellness, 2012.

2Hearing Loss Linked to Three-Fold Risk of Falling,” Johns Hopkins Medicine, February 27, 2012.

For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.

Resources:

Fall Prevention Center of Excellence: A California organization dedicated to helping older persons stay independent through fall prevention.

Guide to Medicare’s Preventive Services: Created for Medicare.gov, the official U.S. government site for Medicare.

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