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Watch your step: 10 most common causes of falls

Safe practices can help prevent falls in people of all ages. While many people are aware of fall risks in older adults, falls also affect about one-quarter of people in middle age, says Azeena Ratansi, occupational therapist with the Multidisciplinary Osteoporosis Program at Women’s College Hospital. The most common fall-related injuries include fractures, lacerations and head trauma, and women are three times more likely than men to be hospitalized for a fall-related injury.

“Falls usually happen because of the combined effects of a number of factors, such as a loss of balance, side-effects of medicine, impaired vision or mobility, and environmental hazards,” explains Ratansi.

She lists the most common reasons for falling and the ways you can minimize your risk for each factor:

  1. Inattentiveness
    Do one thing at a time. Texting while walking can prevent you from noticing physical barriers and obstacles that may cause you to trip and fall.
  2. Loss of balance
    If you use public transit, try standing with your feet shoulder width apart. A wider base of support decreases your chance of falling. This can be helpful when there is a sudden lurch on a bus or subway.Install a seat at the entrance of your home for removing and putting on shoes.
  3. Rushing or hurrying
    Slow down when approaching curbs or steps to allow for adjusting to the height difference.Purchase a cordless phone to carry with you so that you are not rushing to answer the phone in another room when it rings.
  4. Footwear at home
    Ratansi advises against wearing only socks at home – even on carpet. Use footwear with good support, an enclosed back, and soles that have non-slip treads. The Foot Care Centre at Women’s College Hospital recommends Pedors Classic and Foamtreads for use as indoor slippers.
  5. Carrying an object
    Try to keep your hands free whenever possible. Try using a backpack or bundle buggy, or carry your bags higher on your forearms or shoulders.Carrying objects in both hands can interfere with balance and righting reactions, and can block your field of vision. Studies of seniors who had experienced a hip fracture as result of a fall compared to those who didn’t found that having your hands free will give you the opportunity to grab onto something to maintain balance, decreasing the chance of a hip fracture.
  6. Changing position
    Getting up too quickly can affect your balance; particularly if you have low blood pressure. Ratansi advises us to move slowly when changing from lying to sitting, or from sitting to standing.
  7. Going up and down stairs
    Use a handrail when going up and down stairs. It was found that middle-aged adults tend to fall going both ways on the stairs, while older adults generally fall going down stairs.Ensure that you remove your reading glasses when using the stairs.
  8. Reaching or leaning
    Store frequently used items and heavier objects in easily accessible areas between waist and shoulder height.
  9. Uneven surface
    If you walk in ravines or trails, take extra precautions. These areas are typically uneven and can often have roots or fallen trees on the path. Ratansi recommends that you frequently scan your environment for tripping hazards. This will allow you to make the necessary adjustments to keep you safe.The environmental factors contributing to the highest percentage of falls were uneven surfaces and steps.
  10. Obstacles in the path
    To avoid tripping over unforeseen obstacles, install motion-activated or timed lighting outside your home. Place a night light in poorly lit halls and rooms so that you can find your way in the dark. Ratansi recommends keeping a flashlight on your bedside table, especially if you go to the bathroom during the night.

This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Feb. 4, 2014

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