Tripping over a box or slipping on a wet floor could leave you with a broken bone. And a fall could easily send an older person to the hospital, says the National Institute on Aging.
If you fall, stay calm and follow the agency’s recommendations:
Take several deep breaths to try to relax.
Remain still on the ground for a few moments.
If you are hurt or cannot get up on your own, ask for help or call 911.
If you are alone, try to get into a comfortable position and wait for help to arrive.
To Avoid Falls, Check Your Balance
Bad balance is a common cause of dangerous falls, especially among older adults. Falls send more than 2 million adults to the emergency room every year and often result in lengthy rehab stays.
Preventing falls is a priority for staying healthy and preventing painful broken bones as you age. Easy strength and balance exercises that you can do anytime, anywhere, such as tai chi and yoga, can help you stay steady on your feet.
But first it’s important to know how good (or lacking) your balance is. Grab a friend or loved one, a sturdy chair and a stopwatch to check your balance with a quick test called the single leg stance. It basically involves standing on one leg, and doctors use it to predict who might be at risk of falling.
Stand barefoot in front of the chair but don’t touch it. Cross your arms. Lift one leg up off the floor and start the timer. As you feel yourself start to sway, immediately steady yourself with the chair and stop the timer.
Here are the average times that indicate good balance when you stand on one leg based on age:
Ages 18-39: 43 seconds for men and women
Ages 40-49: 40 seconds for men and women
Ages 50-59: 36 seconds for women, 38 for men
Ages 60-69: 25 seconds for women, 28 for men
Ages 70-79: 11 seconds for women, 18 for men
Ages 80-99: 7 seconds for women, 5 seconds for men
If you become unsteady before your specific time, talk to your doctor. Illness, medication and even footwear can throw you off balance. Together, you and your doctor can find solutions.
You can improve your balance by practicing the one-leg stance, but as a training exercise, hold onto a chair and don’t let go. Lift one leg for 15 seconds, rest and repeat three times, then switch legs. The stronger your lower body, the steadier you’ll be on your feet.
For safety reasons, always have someone with you when trying a balance exercise for the first time. Or consider a group balance class. Many community centers offer fun fitness programs to help adults prevent falls.