Fall Prevention Is Not Just for Seniors
by Empish J. Thomas
When I search for articles, seminars, webinars or conferences on fall prevention they always seem to be geared toward seniors. They focus on those in the age group of 50 and up. But falls can happen to anyone at any age. I know this is true because I have had a couple of falls in the last few years and I am in my forties. As a result, I have become much more aware of the way I live my life so that I can prevent more falls in my future.
For example, I don’t talk on my cell phone while walking with my white cane. Talking on the phone while trying to navigate and use proper mobility can cause major distractions and possibly a nasty fall.
Ten Tips and Suggestions To Prevent Falls
As we embark upon National Fall Prevention Awareness Day on September 22nd, I want to share some other tips and suggestions to help you as a blind or visually impaired person prevent falls regardless of your age. The theme this year is "Ready, Steady, Balance Prevent Falls in 2016." This theme was chosen because of the importance of balance in preventing falls.
- First don’t be in denial. As I shared earlier, understand that anyone can have a fall and that includes you. Falls can happen to anyone, not just people who are in poor health, who are frail, or who are elderly. Once you recognize that then you can start to put things in place to prevent falls. I had my first major fall when I was in my late twenties. I was on public transportation, got distracted and was not paying attention to where I was going. Today, when I travel I work much harder at staying mentally focused and alert so that I can concentrate on my mobility. That means using my white cane properly, using hand rails, and keeping my conversation with others brief. It also means that if I am not feeling well or tired that day, I might not travel because not feeling physically well can cause a fall.
- Keep track of your eye condition. Know what is going on with your eyes and any medication for them that you need to take. Additionally, keeping track of medications in general is important. Some have side effects that could cause sleepiness, dizziness, fatigue or other things that impact your ability to stay steady on your feet.
- Take the time to let your eyes adjust to the change of light when coming inside., especially if you have low vision. I remember when I wore triple bifocals and had to use sun slip shades instead of sunglasses. Once I removed the sun shades, I would have to step over to the corner of the building’s entrance to let my eyes adjust to the indoor light before I proceeded on into the building. If I didn’t do this, I had difficulty seeing and I was subject to slipping and falling on the carpet, steps or floor of the building.
- Don't be vain. Stop wearing high heels. When I first became blind, I got rid of my high heels. I noticed that due to my vision loss my stride was off and I was afraid of falling as a result. Today I wear flats, wedges or 1 inch heels. I still feel feminine but know that I am protecting myself from falling or slipping.
- Start an exercise program I have found that exercise is very helpful in fall prevention. I walk on my treadmill, ride on my exercise bike, use hand weights and do floor exercises on a regular basis. All of these activities help tone and strengthen my body. They also help with balance and over all motor skills.
- If you have stairs in your home, install or use the existing banister for support. In my home I have stairs and a very strong sturdy banister. I insisted on it when I purchased my home. So, I grab that banister each time I go up and down the stairs.
- Don't carry too many things when going up and down steps. I have discovered that having too many items can cause me to slip and be off balance. So I put items in a tote bag and place on my shoulder or arm. This helps to leave my hands free. This is also good practice when you are out and about. Being loaded down with too many bags and especially heavy ones, put you off balance and cause a fall. If you do have to carry multiple bags distribute the weight, use a backpack or roller bag on wheels.
- Watch out for rugs and plastic runners. Most people have rugs or floor mats in their home. If they are not secure on the floor or carpet they can cause a fall. Additionally, I have plastic runners to protect my carpet. I am very mindful of them and watch my step as not to slip and fall. I check them from time to time to be sure they are securely in place on the carpet.
- Rearrange your furniture to promote safety and comfort. I have a town home and my dining room and living room are combined together. So I have left a lot of open space to walk and move around without bumping into the furniture and have also purchased furniture with rounded edges verses pointed edges to avoid bumps and bruises.
- Don’t leave shoes, bags, cords, or other items on the floor that you can easily trip over. If you live with friends or family encourage them to do the same.
As you can tell, my suggestions and tips for fall prevention have little to do with age or being a senior. It is more about lifestyle, awareness and planning. It is more about understanding that falls can happen to anyone at any time in life; but with some awareness, education and preparation they can be prevented. My tips are not exhaustive. So, share in the comment section what you do as a blind or visually impaired person to prevent a fall in your life. What things have you put in place to keep yourself safe from falls?
Some Fall Prevention Resources
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by CarlaAnneErnst on 9/22/2016 at 10:20 AM
Being new at being blind, I'm still learning, and it is the hard way. I tried a shortcut to my apartment building recycling bin across the grass, a route I had routinely walked on before I lost my vision and forgot there was a small tree stump in the ground. Of course I tripped on it and hurtled down to the ground and got muddied and bloodied. So, I've learned that grass, sand, and soon to be here in Milwaukee, snow, are not mind friends anymore.
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by Quietwater on 9/22/2016 at 1:01 PM
Carla, snow and ice do mean an increased difficulty in moving safely. When snow is falling, it changes how sound behaves and can have an effect on echo location. I use Yak Traks on my boots and shoes to reduce slipping. They pull on and look a little like the chains used on cars during icy road conditions. I do a lot of stretches to keep my flexibility up. When you can't predict what your next step forward will land you on, it helps to keep limber. You can then regain balance by compensating for the sudden change in footing with ankles, knees and hips. I have been known to slide down the edges of steps or slopes without falling much as if I were skiing. Yoga is another tool to keep those tendons and muscles limber. I too loved fancy shoes until I became a guide dog user. I move a lot faster with my dog and found rubber soled shoes a lot safer at higher speeds. Slowing down when the footing is uncertain also works since you have more time to adjust to surprises underfoot.
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by CarlaAnneErnst on 9/22/2016 at 1:41 PM
Wow. very helpful Quietwater! You are a truly experienced and knowledgeable blind woman. I will try out all these ideas. Particularly like the idea of looking like a snow tire with chains! (So much for being a fashionista in winter.) Also will bolster buy yoga and exercise. Thank you so much! Carla Ernst
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by Empish on 9/24/2016 at 8:21 PM
Now, you can still be fashionable in the winter, maybe not with your footwear though. Smile. You might have to try out a more fashionable coat, winter scarf or jacket instead. But Deanna is right about yoga. I have to admit I have not practiced as much as I should but when I was doing yoga religiously it helped a lot with flexibility and balance. There is a guy I know in New York who created CDs of blind yoga classes. You can order them online.I think the website is www.blindyoga.net. There is also a lady who did something similar called Blind Alive for exercises you can download and listen to for work outs you can do on your own at home. Both give audio description.
All of this helps but just staying mentally aware of your surroundings and taking your time when moving around is also a good thing to do. Safe travels!
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by CarlaAnneErnst on 9/25/2016 at 7:38 PM
Thanks so much Empish! Yoga is a great idea. I did it quite a bit before I lost my vision so no reason I can't do it now. There is a course that usually occurs at my Church on Monday nights so I will do that again. It's not for blind people but I'm sure I can bend and stretch with the sighted people. So much of yoga is by sound anyway, and it occurs in mostly darkness, so for once everyone will be in my world! I'm particularly excited by the balance since I have peripheral neuropathy in my feet which is of course tough since vision is so linked with balance. But that's gone now, so I look forward to working on my balance through yoga. Thanks again for your advice, your kindness and doing this incredible blog. Namaste. Carla Ernst. New Blind Girl in Milwaukee.
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by Empish on 9/25/2016 at 9:10 PM
Well, if you did yoga before vision loss the movements will comeback to you. That is great and you will be ahead of the game. You already know what an upward and downward dog is or warrior one or two is. So you will just need to get a little coaching from the class instructor and you will be good to go. That is excellent! Good luck and keep us posted on how that goes.
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by CarlaAnneErnst on 9/25/2016 at 10:37 PM
Thanks Empish. I'm looking forward to it on many levels. It will be strange for me being able to feel and touch my body, stretch and and bend, all without vision, but I guess no worse than everything else. I make a concerted effort to do things everyday, learn and function in every way I can. I got a Library of Congress book reading machine and my first disc. Now that I figured out how to get it working, I can see being another window of perception for me, access to books again. Thanks again for all your contact. It means an awful lot to me. I'm finding blindness to be quite isolating. Thanks again. Best, Carla Ernst
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by CarlaAnneErnst on 9/25/2016 at 10:46 PM
Empish - Do know of a program in the United States that immerses you into comprehensive training as a blind woman?
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by Empish on 9/26/2016 at 8:25 PM
Hi Carla Ann,
You said training as a blind woman? Can you be specific about that? Are you talking about doing things like hair and makeup? Mothering?
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by CarlaAnneErnst on 9/27/2016 at 12:57 PM
Great questions Empish - although I would like to say I need total immersion in everything about being blind, I should scope it to living as a single blind woman in her sixties and being able to travel better via my cane, use my computer, and daily living like getting dressed (since they have a no nudity policy in Wisconsin), and cooking. I know Braille is a life-long endeavor, but I want to learn that too. Best.
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by SueMartin on 9/27/2016 at 3:08 PM
I'd like to approach this whole issue of falling from a different perspective. Last week I fell over my guide dog. He's still relatively new to me and doesn't seem to have figured out I can't see and that I *will* fall over him if he parks himself in the middle of the floor and doesn't pay attention to me when I'm walking around the house. I fell quite gracefully and somehow managed to *not* fall on him --- can't have that now can we? He's one of Seeing Eye's "baby boys" meaning he's just a big baby who complains loudly if I even think about stepping on his tail or a paw.
So… Rather than approaching the issue of falling by preventing falls I think we all should have lessons in falling safely and gracefully!
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by CarlaAnneErnst on 9/27/2016 at 3:48 PM
Wow! So sorry to hear that Sue. I'm still quite new in the blind world (four months) so I'm still just trying to get good at navigating with my cane. I can't even imagine a dog at this point! Best, Carla Ernst
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by Empish on 9/27/2016 at 5:35 PM
It is too cold in Wisconsin for you to be nude anyway! HaHa! But I am glad that you gave me some details to work with. So, let’s tart with one this time around. Since we are on the clothes topic there are some great tips and ideas right here on the VisionAware site. You can search for closet organization. Also, one of our peer advisors, Steph, has written some great post on fashion and vsion loss. She has her own blog called Blind Bold Beauty and it all about being that beautiful fashionable blind woman. She has also dones some post on makeup too.
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by Empish on 9/27/2016 at 5:37 PM
Wow Sue! What an experience for you. First of all I am glad that you are not injured or hurt badly from what you have shared. I know that I didn’t address this in my post but there are tips and suggestions on how to recover from a fall. For example what to do once you hit the floor or ground, and how to properly get up so that you don’t cause additional harm. I think Audry address that in her post on this site. Will you dog need some additional training to avoid this in the future?
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by SueMartin on 9/27/2016 at 5:53 PM
Well, I've asked a psychologist friend for some help but he's not sure about canine therapy! LOL My husband tells me to quit being so considerate of the big lug and just step on him a time or two!
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by CarlaAnneErnst on 9/27/2016 at 6:55 PM
Well, I don't have a big lug or a husband, but I step on everything all the time! That's why I still use my cane in my apartment. I love my cane and practically sleep with it! I've only been blind for several months, so the whole thing is quite new for me living all the time in a world of darkness. I had lost my life partner, Louie my hound dog just before I lost my vision. And he was hardly a service dog! Louie was a few peas short of a casserole, but was very lovable. What kind of dog do you have? How long have you had a dog? Apart from tripping over your dog, do you like having a dog? What part of the world do you live in? Carla Ernst
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by CarlaAnneErnst on 9/27/2016 at 10:18 PM
Thanks Empish for the advice! Looks ike a lot ks right here on rtes AFB site, so I'll start exploring that. Separately, I had read somewhere that there is a month-long program onsite immersion programs somewhere for blind people. Does anyone know about that? Carla Anne Ernst
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by Quietwater on 9/27/2016 at 11:00 PM
Hi Carla, there rehabilitation centers around the country that specialize in the kind of training you are asking about. Who is teaching you to use your cane? have you asked them about such a center? I am not sure which center would serve you in Wisconsin. Here in Missouri, there is one called Alpha Point in Kansas City. I know a lot of people go to the one in Denver Colorado run by the National Federation of the Blind and another Lions World Blind center in Arkansas. I think there are also several centers around the country called Lighthouse for the Blind. There are programs both to provide independent Living Skills training both residential and based in providing services in your own home. Hope this helps. Hugs, DeAnna Quietwater.
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by CarlaAnneErnst on 9/27/2016 at 11:32 PM
Wow. That's great Quietwater and thanks so much for responding. I will check them all out. The problem for me is funding as the Wisconsin organization requires significant funding, and it is not an immersion type of service. I need to be fully dunked in the river of the blind to become functional and get working again. It may not seem like it, but I am a writer by profession and am trying to learn how to use my accessibility technology to continue doing it, but it is still very hard for me with my Chatty Cathy computer. I often feel isolated with sighted people who just don't understand what blindness is like. I am still just a novice at this as it is all so new for me. But I have chosen to move forward. I don't think of this as a disability, but rather just a different ability. I’ve been moving forward the best I can on my own – learning, coping, working and living. In the interim, I just ask that people don’t use the excuse of my vision loss to justify excluding me from work, life and the pursuit of happiness; and I ask for the dignity and respect one would give to anyone else – sighted or not. I may have lost my vision, but I am rapidly re-discovering my independence, zest and love for life. Thanks again Quietwater.
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by maryhiland on 9/28/2016 at 8:37 AM
The only time I did a spectacular fall was when I was walking with a sighted friend. my guide dog and I were following him as we approached a flight of stairs, outside, and I wasn't paying attention. I think I might have been flirting with him at the time. Smile. Anyway, sighted people usually do not stop at the top of a flight of stairs or a curb like guide dogs do or are supposed to do. He just went on down the steps, and so di my guide dog. I think she was flirting too, not paying attention either. And out into thin air I stepped and landed on concrete at the bottom of the five or so steps. I was scraped up and very embarrassed, but I certainly learned my lesson. If I came up stairs to enter a building, it is most likely that I'm going to have to go back down them when I leave, so, pay attention and look for those stairs. and pause the flirting while approaching steps.
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by Quietwater on 9/28/2016 at 10:38 AM
Mary, I know the feeling! One feels such a fool when we are the cause of our own mishaps due to inattention. Once in high school, I was woolgathering and tripped over a flowerbed with a concrete raised border I knew perfectly well was at the end of that hall. At that time, I wasn't even trained to use a white cane and didn't go to train with my first guide dog until after I graduated. I mostly used echo location or walked with friends from class to class. I was on my own when I had the close encounter with the retaining wall around the flower bed. Naturally, a boy I liked saw my pratt fall and rushed to help me up. My panty hose were torn and I had some bleeding scrapes. He asked, "Are you all right? What are you doing down there!" Being the sort of kid who never admitted fear or that I was hurt, I answered, "Oh, it was such a gloomy day, I decided to drop in and give the flora a little sunshine." I have also tripped as Holly mentioned while pregnant when my center of gravity had radically shifted. The time I skated down the edges of a short flight of steps, was my own fault too. I sidestepped to my right because I was trying to avoid someone coming toward me banging his cane forcefully on a tile floor. I should have let my guide dog choose the avoidance maneuver, instead of stepping away from her in to the stairs leading to a lower lobby. She of course scrambled after meprobably wondering just where I thought I was going. I also broke a finger once slipping on icy steps. Sometimes we get to confident and don't use common sense and good techniques. D.Q.N.
Re: Fall Prevention Is Not Just for SeniorsPosted by SueMartin on 9/28/2016 at 12:30 PM
My “spectacular” falls have all been just that – spectacular! Four months after we were married Jim and I fell off a cliff and dragged my first guide dog with us. The dog only had a scratch on her nose while Jim had a fractured skull. I had no wounds except my pride. We’ve since learned that it’s best for me to lead when we hike together so Jim can warn me of danger, you know, “Don’t fall to your left,” meaning if you fall to your left you might be dead because there’s a 100 foot cliff there.
About a year after I brought Kismet, dog number four, home I stepped off a retaining wall and fractured my pelvis and right elbow. That one was totally my fault as I stepped forward as I turned rather than pivoting as I had been taught.
In answer to other questions: I love working a guide dog – so much so that I’ve only been without a dog for a couple of months over a thirty-one year period. My current dog, Quan, is my fifth from Seeing Eye. Apart from the first dog, Sadie, who was a yellow Lab, the other four have all been shepherds. Quan’s my first male and, when he reaches maturity, will probably weigh close to 80 pounds and, since I weigh 112 dripping wet it’s going to be interesting!
My own rehab process occurred with two teachers and lasted several months. I worked with my vision rehab therapist about six months and my O&M instructor almost a year. Residential training was offered but I chose to receive my training at home instead.
If you’re looking for some bedtime reading you can read about the whole process here: http://suewmartin.com/my-rehab/ If you want to know more about guide dogs in general and The Seeing Eye in particular here’s my tribute to The Seeing Eye: http://suewmartin.com/seeing-eye/.
And finally, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs published a guest blog post on their official blog earlier this month and you can find it here: http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/30552/say-loud-suicide/
Hope some of this is helpful!
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