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Did you know that more than one in three Canadians older than 65-years-old fall each year? Did you know that half of those people will have injuries that threaten their mobility and independence? Those are frightening facts and figures if you are at risk for falling.

The question is: Are you at risk? And if you are, what can you do about it?

More than 90 per cent of falls could be prevented by managing common risk factors. The key is identifying which risk factors apply to you and proactively implementing changes. In my physiotherapy practice, I can often be heard reminding clients: “The easiest way to manage an injury, is not to have one at all!”

Risk factors are typically described as either intrinsic (relating to your body) or extrinsic (relating to your environment).

Intrinsic risk factors include advancing age, a history of falls, muscle weakness, decreased balance, poor vision and a fear of falling. Obviously, not all of these factors can be modified, but there are some simple ways to address the ones you can change:

-Meet with a physiotherapist regarding appropriate exercises to improve your muscle strength and balance. Often you can learn a program that can easily be done in the comfort of your own home. Research has shown that you can improve strength and balance regardless of your age. A spin-off benefit of these improvements is an increase in confidence and a corresponding decrease in fear of falling.

-Ensure you have your eyes checked regularly and remember to take your reading glasses off when walking.

Extrinsic risk factors include inadequate or not using handrails or grab-bars, dim lighting, tripping hazards, slippery surfaces, improper use of an assistive device and medications. The majority of extrinsic risk factors can either be eliminated or significantly reduced. Here are some simple ways you can begin to increase your safety today:

-Install handrails or grab-bars anywhere you feel your balance is compromised.

-Wear relatively flat, closed-toed and closed-heeled shoes with good traction on the sole.

-Install night-lights in hallways, stairwells and other poorly lit indoor areas, use a timer for outdoor lighting to keep walkways well-lit at night.

-Remove area rugs, bath mats and runners that pose a tripping hazard.

-Ensure you are using your mobility aid (cane) properly.

-Take all medications as directed and review what you are taking regularly with your pharmacist.

It is important to understand which risk factors apply to you and then take action to minimize their impact. Watch for my next column discussing what to do if you do find yourself falling. I’ll review safe falling techniques and how to get back up.

Original article from the Chronicle Herald

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