As I was sipping coffee and staring at the lake this morning, an ambulance siren interrupted my reverie. To my surprise the ambulance stopped only a short way down the lake. Along with 2 or 3 others, I walked over to see what happened in our cottage neighbourhood. To our surprise, one of our neighbours had tripped and fallen down the beach steps. In obvious agony he was placed on a stretcher and taken to hospital. Subsequentially, we have learned that the fall resulted in several injuries including a broken hip and several broken ribs.
I know that health concerns rank high in the list of worries for the postworksavvy. Consider this statistic — one in three seniors falls a least once per year. It’s a ‘no-brainer’ that the best and cheapest health insurance — in terms of both pain and money — is staying upright.
Here are a few tips for preventing falls given to me after my hip replacement surgery. These are common sense pieces of advice known to all of us but often ignored.
Wear low-heeled, securely fitting shoes — preferably with rubber soles. This advice is too often disregarded especially by women who have been socialized and acculturated to wear stylish footgear. I confess to a having a storage closet filled with shoes. My husband refers to the shoe stash as the “Imelda’ collection: about 50 pairs of pumps that were staples during my career; more than 20 pairs of strappy sandals that got me through those hot summer days especially when my toes were perfectly pedicured; boots for all types of Canadian weather — leather dress boots, comfy walking boots, and British wellies for wet days; and, an assortment of gym shoes for all types of sports. The sad truth is that most of this gear is now useless to me. I’m still not at 100% mobility since hip surgery and I am wearing orthotics inserted into a couple of pairs of cross trainers. For the beach, I have a couple of pairs of orthotic sandals. Enough said — sensible shoes prevent falls!
Use bath-mats. Put a sturdy bath mat in your shower when it’s dry and make sure to secure the mat to the floor of the shower stall. Do the same in a tub, if you prefer to have tub baths. It’s easy to rely on the pre-installed grip in a shower but don’t trust that alone as soapy water can create nasty surprises. This advice is important at home and doubly important when in unfamiliar settings like hotels.
Clear away clutter. I’ve always kept writing materials and books in slightly organized piles in my office to allow easy access to project materials. The project piles and books are now on a long writing-table which keeps the floor clear. Other notorious areas of clutter might involve electrical cords, pet feeding stations, telephone cords, improperly placed footstools or wastebaskets. It makes sense to keep all areas of your home clear so you can walk safely.
Work on your balance through specific exercises. As we get older, many falls happen due to faulty balance. The agility, left/right balance and the quick reactions taken for granted in younger years changes. Although my hip surgery happened 8 months ago, I know that I have not fully re-gained my balance and that even though I walk with minimal discomfort, my balance is unstable. Yoga teachers and the physiotherapist reassure me that balance can eventually be regained. I also know that daily exercise keeps muscles strong and keeps joints agile — both qualities that aid in staying upright.
Night-lights are essentials. Keep a night-light in your travel kit. Install photo-sensitive night-lights in your home. A night-light is an easy prevention tool that can be purchased at any dollar store.
Stairs are a challenge which is why so many postworksavvy folks are moving to bungalows and one-floor apartments. If you live with stairs, as I do, make sure that carpets on stairways adhere well to each riser. Ensure that banisters or stair rails are stable. And, similar to the tip about clutter, keep those stairwells clear to avoid tripping on objects. If you have steps outside of your house or cottage, keep them safe especially if ice accumulates.
My neighbour slipped on excess accumulations of loose sand. The sand blew up the beach steps from the sand dune during a very heavy windstorm during the night before his fall. This accident could have been prevented. Too bad — because his summer at the beach is over.