Remember what it felt like to fall when you were a kid?
Probably not, because most of the time it was not a big deal…you fell, you got up, dusted yourself off (or put a band aid on) and continued on your merry way. It’s more than likely that there was no fear or embarrassment, and you fell without stiffening up or trying to catch yourself.
But falling takes on a whole new meaning when you’ve entered this so-called midlife, because as you age your risk increases. Although falls can happen at any age, more than one in three people 65 or older in the U.S. fall each year. What was once a simple thing can cause serious injury and have serious consequences.
Falls happen for so many reasons.
- You may be rushing around and not paying attention. Suddenly, you trip over something you hadn’t taken time to notice – a pet, a loose floorboard or rug, a pile of papers, an extension cord or something else might catch your foot.
- Outdoors, a crack in the pavement or weather conditions like rain or ice (or even a banana peel) can make the surface suddenly hazardous.
- When walking down (or up) the stairs, you may miss a step.
- Your eyesight, reflexes or balance may be compromised by age.
- Carrying too much in your hands/arms causes you to lose your balance.
- Footwear, like high heels or backless shoes, could make you unstable.
- Medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or thyroid, nerve or foot problems could affect your balance.
- Certain medications might cause confusion or dizziness.
- Your blood pressure may drop when you get up from a prone position.
Of course, preventing falls – and keeping your bones and muscles strong – are important steps toward both maintaining better balance and avoiding injury. But even if you are careful and prudent, falls can catch you unawares.
That happened to me a few years ago when I broke my wrist while traveling. I strode – with wet feet (a very bad idea!) – across a slippery surface (a marble bathroom floor) and suddenly was airborne, then came down hard. Instinct had me trying to break my fall with outstretched hands, but my bones were no match for the floor’s rigid surface, and my left wrist bone snapped in half.
Just preventing falls is not the entire picture toward staying safe – landing differently might have saved my bones, yielding me a bruise somewhere else on my body, rather than a break. That’s when knowing the art of falling might have come in handy.
I realize that your mind can’t always kick in when your instincts tell you differently – after all, falls happen in a split second – but if you review and envision these tips for falling the safe way, it just might:
Bend your elbows and knees and try to fall on the fleshiest part of your body; that might be the side of your thigh, buttocks and shoulder.
When falling forward, try to twist your body so you’ll land on your side; then roll onto your back.
When falling backward, tucking your chin into your chest can help protect you from hitting your head (which can cause a concussion). Try to keep your arms in front of you, too.
It’s hard to think about actually being relaxed about falling, but relaxing into the fall can help soften your muscles and distribute the energy into the widest area possible. Instead of fighting the fall, go with it.
If you do fall, the National Institute on Aging offers the following suggestions:
Stay calm. Before you try to get up, take some deep breaths and figure out if you’re hurt. If you rise too quickly or move the wrong way, you can hurt yourself even more. Then, roll over onto your side and rest for a few minutes to make sure your body and blood pressure adjust. Get up slowly on your hands and knees; then crawl over to a sturdy chair.
Place your hands on the chair seat, slide one foot forward so it’s flat on the floor, keeping the other leg bent so the knee is still on the floor. Slowly get up from this kneeling position, and turn your body to sit in the chair.
Of course, keeping your bones strong can help reduce the likelihood that they’ll break if you do fall. You can do this by exercising and maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle (being underweight, drinking too much alcohol and smoking all increase the risk of both bone loss and broken bones) and getting adequate calcium and vitamin D.