Last week I went to the clinic for my annual checkup. I was surprised by the question, “Have you fallen in the past year?” But, it got me thinking.

As we age our risk of falls increases and falls are a growing and significant public health problem. Falls are a threat to the health of older adults and can reduce their ability to remain independent.

The good news is falls don’t have to be a (normal) part of aging, there are proven ways to reduce them.

The Center for Disease Control says just a single fall intervention, such as exercise, medication management, or home modification could prevent falls and avert medical costs which are estimated at $50 billion annually.

Doctors, nurses and pharmacists can help older adults assess their fall risk. A regular office visit is a good opportunity to ask about the risk of falling.

Most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors like:

  • Lower body weakness.
  • Vitamin D deficiency (that is, not enough vitamin D in your system).
  • Difficulties with walking and balance.
  • Use of medicines, such as tranquilizers, sedatives, or antidepressants. Even some over-the-counter medicines can affect balance and how steady you are on your feet.
  • Vision problems.
  • Foot pain or poor footwear.
  • Home hazards or dangers such as broken or uneven steps and throw rugs or clutter that can be tripped over.

There are some simple things you can do to keep yourself from falling. Start with asking your healthcare provider to evaluate your risk factors like your medications or if you should be taking a vitamin D supplement.

You can do exercises that make your legs stronger and improve your balance: exercises that increase your core muscles for better balance are important. There are a variety of exercises that can accomplish this goal. Visit with your health care provider to determine what’s best for you.

Have your eyes checked at least once a year, and be sure to update your eyeglasses if needed. If you have bifocal or progressive lenses, you may want to get a pair of glasses with only your distance prescription for outdoor activities, such as walking.

Make your home safer.

  • Get rid of things you could trip over.
  • Add grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower and next to the toilet.
  • Put railings on both sides of stairs.
  • Make sure your home has lots of light by adding more or brighter light bulbs.

With our Minnesota winter on the horizon, being aware of ice is also a necessary part of fall prevention. For more information, call Horizon Public Health at 320-208-6672. Or search “falls” at CDC.gov

Marcia Schroeder is a registered nurse with Horizon Public Health, which serves five counties, including Douglas County. Contact her at marcias@horizonph.org.