Avoid Being a Statistic: Tips for Fall Prevention Outside the Home
Eight Fall Prevention Tips When You Are Outdoors
Autumn is a beautiful time of year to get yourself outdoors, the temperatures are milder, the air a little crisper. If you're older, it's especially enjoyable to get involved in recreational activities knowing you're getting exercise at the same time. But 50% of falls among seniors happen outside the home and the risk increases if you spend a lot of time outdoors in the fall.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) a third of adults ages 65 and older fall unintentionally. Whether inside or outside falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries among seniors. Because the population of seniors aged 65 and older is expected to double by 2030, fall prevention is rapidly becoming a national imperative.
Now, dear reader, you might be thinking, “That will never happen to me.” You mentally list how you can demonstrate you're independent and can still take care of yourself. In fact, most of those outdoor falls happen among younger and more active seniors! According to the American Journal of Public Health, falls occur outdoors more than indoors for adults aged 45 and up. The majority are caused by factors that could affect someone of any age; tripping on uneven surfaces or tripping or slipping on objects on a sidewalk, curb or street.
So here's a little mental weight lifting to tone up your safety awareness before you go outside.
Tips for Fall Prevention Outside Your Home
While making safety modifications to an outdoor space might not be as easy as modifying your home, here are eight tips to help ensure you'll stay safe outdoors this autumn.
1. Keep Your Outdoor Space Clear
It's an obvious first step, but sometimes it takes a bit of energy to take care of your outdoor spaces. Regardless of the season, keeping your outdoor areas like stairs, walkways, driveways and decks free of debris is a good idea. Remove the clutter and keep areas free of trash. Keep the sidewalk in front of your home clear. Are the surfaces around your home smooth, or are there potential tripping hazards when you're getting the mail or taking out the recycling bin? If there are, get them fixed! If you go out at night, turning on an outdoor light before you leave can help you avoid tripping or slipping later.
2. Wear Sensible Shoes!
Look at the shoes you're using outdoors. If you're a bit unstable, beginning to lose your balance, loose shoes like flip-flops or Crocs could come off and trip you up. Consider swapping summer sandals for a shoe with a flat heel and a rubber sole. It will provide more traction, and enclosed shoes are less likely to fall off. Keep your outdoor shoes by the door to make it easy to put them on before you leave the house. You can put a bench or chair next to the door, either inside or outside. Find a great lidded basket or box to place by the seat and keep your shoes handy. Make it easy to change to safe shoes before going out.
3. Use Handrails, Move Deliberately, and Avoid Problem Areas
In manufacturing and industrial plants, safety officers train employees to use the 3-point rule when moving up or down stairs - two feet on the steps plus one hand on a handrail. If it’s important for workplace safety, apply that lesson at home, too. Use available handrails with stairs. If you don’t have handrails on your outdoor stairs, install them. Notice how you move when you’re walking or running. Arthritis in hip or back joints can cause you to walk crookedly to minimize discomfort. If this is true for you, bring full awareness to moving whenever you walk outdoors and be cautious of daydreaming when in motion. If parts of your yard are not well-lit, making pathways potential tripping spots, add light. Even inexpensive solar powered lighting can reduce your risks.
4. Avoid Overheating and Drink Plenty of Water
Nothing is worse than working or walking in the heat with inappropriate clothing. Getting overheated and suddenly standing can cause dizziness that can lead to a fall. When outdoors, protect your body by wearing light-colored, loose clothing. Natural fibers like cotton and linen breathe far better than polyester. Protect your head and eyes with a hat, it can also reduce glare and help you see potential fall risks. Always carry water and stay hydrated. If it's very humid outside, your body may not be able to evaporate sweat fast enough to keep you cool. Add dehydration, and you could be susceptible to heat stress, which can lead to a nasty fall.
5. Be Aware of Safe Practices if You Use a Walking Aid
If you need a walking aid, like a cane or walker, remember to look straight ahead, not at your feet. Be sure the rubber tip is clear of debris. If a sidewalk street or walking path has a surface that looks unsafe, walk on the grass instead. Check your walker for loose joints occasionally if it’s the foldable kind, and replace tips when needed. Some users find that an old tennis ball works better than a rubber tip for stability with walking aids.
Beyond your yard, on a street or in another public space
6. Carry a Cellphone or Wear an Emergency Response Pendant
It's always a good idea to keep your cell phone or emergency response pendant handy when you’re indoors, but especially when you're outside working or walking alone. It can ensure you'll be able to get help if you do fall. Fall prevention is the optimal choice, but if you do fall, being prepared and having access to the help you may need can prevent further injury.
7. Use the Buddy System
Taking a walk outdoors with a friend is not only an opportunity to socialize, but it can protect you from falling. When you're walking with a friend, you can keep each other aware of potential fall hazards, and if either of you does fall, you can get help, or you can help each other up. Get into the habit of looking for hazards, such as poorly marked curbs and angled curbs. Curbs on sloped areas near handicap ramps and curbstops in parking lots can be invisible.
8. Finally Be Prepared if You Do Fall
Be prepared in the event you do fall to lessen the risk of serious injury. Learn to fall safely. Programs in your local senior centers can help you to learn how to react if you lose your balance and feel yourself falling. Practice means that you're less likely to end up seriously injured if you do fall outdoors. And be aware of your surroundings. If you fall outside and can't get up on your own, look around for something stable nearby, from a tree to a parked car. If you can, roll to the object and use it to push against. Your arm and shoulder muscles are stronger than you might think.
Fall prevention is something that you should be aware of and practice every time you go outdoors. Keep these tips in mind and have a glorious time outside whenever the weather beckons you to the fresh air.