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It takes a community to prevent a fall: We all have a role to play

IFA Guest Blogger: Marguerite Oberle Thomas, Consultant -Liaison, Fall Prevention Community of Practice. Thomas, a senior, has worked in Injury Prevention since 1996.


Fall Prevention Month is a November campaign initiated for the fourth year by pan-Canadian partnering organizations that assist intermediaries who work with older adults and those at risk of injury due to falls. Why do we need to promote Fall Prevention Month? The motto says it all “It takes a community to prevent a fall: We all have a role to play”. When someone falls, it affects the individual, the family, the community and the health care system.  The partners and contributors who make it happen in Canada recognize that fall prevention is an international issue and invite advocates everywhere to adapt and utilize the ideas and resources created over the past four years.

As both a senior and someone still in the workforce, the first hurdle for many seniors is to acknowledge that falls are not an inevitable part of ageing and that there is much that can be done on a personal, home and community level.

On a personal level, there are some things that cannot be changed such as your genetic background and past history of falls. However, general health is most important and helpful strategies include:

  • good nutrition, being neither over nor underweight
  • adequate exercise
  • vision checks
  • comfort and skill in the use of assistive devices
  • footwear that fits well and has non-slip soles, especially boots in winter
  • medication reviews with your healthcare provider
  • physical check-ups to maintain your best self

Less well known is the role of hearing checks. People fall when they misstep while concentrating on blocking out noise while listening to what they want to hear. Fear of falling is a huge factor as well, as it can inhibit the free and vigorous movements that keep our muscles strong. Mood and mental ability need to be considered.  Medical conditions can loom large. Conditions that affect balance, strength and flexibility are all risk factors as are certain medications and the use of alcohol or cannabis.

On the home front, the first step would be to obtain a home safety checklist. Many of these available online or are located at your local health care centres. Lists should include all the rooms in your home with suggestions for improvement. Considerations include:

  • Adequate lighting indoors and outdoors, especially with night lights
  • Stair coverings that are not slippery and include a strip painted or marked a different colour on the edge
  • Stair railing that are reachable and small enough so that a woman with a small hand can grasp it, should she slip
  • Clutter free walkways, especially stairs and being aware of electrical and phone cords
  • Bathroom grab bars and non-slippery floor covering
  • Bed linens that will not get in the way of that night time bathroom journey

Most pertinent this time of the year is safe winter walking. Helpful tips include:

  • Build up stamina gradually
  • Monitor the weather forecast
  • Tell somewhere where you are going and for how long
  • Plot out your trail, looking for bench rests and washrooms as well as hazards
  • Keep hydrated to avoid dizziness
  • Dress in layers so you can keep comfortable as you warm up
  • Wear easily seen clothing if walking when it is darker
  • Take along your cell phone
  • Remember to pause if you have transition glasses that go dark and light
  • Inform your municipality about any trip hazards

In the community and public places: Speak up, be proactive, and support Age friendly Communities. Biggest personal tip: Slow down and think ahead. It is often several factors that make a fall happen and hurrying is a major culprit. Stay safe and enjoy the social and physical wellbeing that comes from being active and avoiding falls.

Learn more by joining the Fall Prevention Community of Practice. Check out the Loop website, follow us on Twitter, and  join our mailing list.

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