As people age, physical changes and health conditions like diabetes may increase the risk of falls. Each year, millions of adults 65 or older fall, and falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults. Moreover, older adults living with diabetes may be more likely to fall than others. Hypoglycemia, which can cause confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, and/or impaired vision, may contribute to falls. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your blood sugar management.
A fear of falling doesn’t have to dampen a person’s quality of life. Dance movement therapist Natalie Grofman who specializes in work with older adults recommends to her clients that they get to know their body. “No age is too late for that.” She added that older people might tend “to look upon their body as a source of disappointment. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
It doesn’t have to be, however. There are some simple strategies to reduce the risk of falls. The Mayo Clinic recommends that people work with their doctor to create a fall prevention plan. This may include discussing medications, letting the doctor know if they’ve fallen before, and sharing any symptoms they may experience like dizziness or numbness. Neuropathy, a complication of diabetes that can cause numbness, may make it harder to tell where one’s feet are moving and may cause a loss of balance.
If your doctor approves of physical activity, activities such as walking, water workouts or tai chi may reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility. Your doctor may also recommend you see a physical therapist to create a custom exercise program.
In the home
Getting rid of hazards may help to prevent falls. To make a home safer, the Mayo Clinic recommends:
- Clearing walkways and high-traffic areas of cords, boxes, and furniture
- Securing loose rugs with double-faced tape, tacks or a slip-resistant backing — or removing loose rugs from the home entirely
- Repairing loose, wooden floorboards and carpeting immediately
- Storing clothing, dishes, food and other everyday necessities within easy reach
- Immediately cleaning spilled liquids, grease or food
- Using nonslip mats in the bathtub or shower.
Good lighting is another important factor. Place night lights in the bedroom, bathroom and hallways.
- Place a lamp within reach of the bed for middle-of-the-night needs
- Make clear paths to light switches that aren’t near room entrances. Consider trading traditional switches for glow-in-the-dark or illuminated switches
- Turn on the lights before going up or down stairs
- Store flashlights in easy-to-find places in case of power outages.
Your doctor may recommend using a cane or walker to keep you steady. Other safety measures include:
- Hand rails for both sides of stairways
- Nonslip treads for bare-wood steps
- A raised toilet seat or one with armrests
- Grab bars for the shower or tub
- A sturdy plastic seat for the shower or tub — plus a hand-held shower nozzle for bathing while sitting down.
A simple TUG (Timed Up and Go) test conducted by a healthcare provider can help assess the risk of falls. During the test, you will wear your regular footwear and may use a walking aid if needed. You will sit back in a standard arm chair and identify a line on the floor 10 feet away. Your provider will then tell you to:
- Stand up from the chair
- Walk to the line on the floor at your normal pace
- Walk back to the chair at your normal pace
- Sit down again.
Depending on how long it may take you to complete the test, you might be at a higher risk for falling.
Grofman says it’s important to remember that most activities can be adjusted to the special balance needs of the elderly.” The fear of falling, she says, may “be fought off by regaining a sense of joy with movement and getting to know the body’s strengths, weaknesses and limitations as they change over the years.”
Jessica Apple is the co-founder and editor in chief of the online diabetes lifestyle magazine A Sweet Life. Her writing has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The Financial Times Magazine, The Southern Review, The Bellevue Literary Review and Tablet Magazine. Apple is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.
© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience