Did you know that if you are over the age of 65, your chances of falling sometime this year are about one in three?  As we get older, we don't bounce like we used to. Falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-related death in older adults. Let's talk today about how to reduce your risk of falling.

Have you fallen before? Do you know why? Do you have dizzy spells? Do your medications make you feel woozy? Keep a little notepad and make some notes to yourself about what you think caused you to fall. Make a note of when you feel off balance and what might have been going on at that time? How long before the episode did you take your medications and which medications were they? Take your notepad with you when you go to the doctor. Knowing we have a doctor appointment coming up, we are inclined to remind ourselves over and over that we want to discuss this or that with him while we are in his office. Then, it never fails, you are walking out to the parking lot and oops! I meant to ask him that! Keeping a notepad handy will ensure that you discuss all of your concerns with the doctor while you have his attention.

Review your medications with your pharmacist and ask which ones are likely to increase your fall risk. Drugs that treat anxiety and insomnia, in particular, can make you feel a little off balance. Muscle relaxers can slow your reaction time. Some blood pressure medications can cause a little dizziness. Sometimes it is not a single drug, but rather the combination of drugs that causes the problem. Let your pharmacist guide you toward better choices to treat your conditions.

Discuss with your doctor whether you would be safe to start exercising and consider taking a program like a Tai Chi, yoga or dance class which would work specifically to improve your balance. If you are afraid an exercise class would increase your risk of falling, talk with your doctor about a referral to Physical Therapy where you can learn exercises to meet your specific needs.

When you have balance problems, sneakers or shoes with gripping soles are not the best choice. Buy properly fitting shoes that lace up or have Velcro closures rather than slip on. Avoid shoes with extra thick soles. Ladies, if your feet are particularly wide, shop in the men's department for shoes one size smaller than your usual size. No high heels, no floppy slippers and no slick soles that might make you slip. If you get dizzy when you bend over to put your shoes on, consider one of those long shoe horns to make the job easier.

Now let's take a look around your house. Get the clutter up off the floor and make sure that extension cords are well out of the way. Our homes can be filled with decorative booby traps just waiting for the chance to trip us up.  Potted plants or cute little figurines sitting just around the corner where you don't see them need to be moved.  Throw rugs are out of the question even if you have that sticky tape on the back of them. Use a non-slip bath mat in the bathroom and in front of the kitchen sink.

Make sure that you have plenty of light in all your rooms and closets. Place a lamp within easy reach of your bed and turn it on when you get up to go to the restroom. Clear that path from bed to bathroom so you don't risk tripping on your way to and from in the middle of the night. Place night lights in your bathroom, kitchen and hallway. Consider using lighted switches so you can find them easily. Store flashlights in easy to reach areas in case of power outages.

If your doctor or Physical Therapist has recommended you use a cane or walker, please don't be too proud to use it. Consider a shower chair and using a hand-held nozzle to shower while sitting down. A raised toilet seat can make getting up and down steadier. Please don't count on a towel rack to catch you. Installing grab bars near the toilet, tub and shower can keep you safe. 

Jackie Randa is a physical therapist who owns Back on Track in Barstow. She can be contacted at jranda@aol.com