As we age, our risk of falling and being injured increase. After age 65, your risk of falling is about one in three. These falls may result in broken bones or other injuries that lead to declining health, isolation and a loss of independence.
Aging brings many physical changes including slowed reaction times and a decreased sense of balance. Many medications including diuretics, sedatives and high blood pressure medications can alter your sense of balance. Health conditions that affect older adults such as cataracts, glaucoma, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, congestive heart failure, heart arrhythmias, emphysema, arthritis and nerve damage can increase your risk of falls.
While your risk of falling increases with age, you can take steps to help prevent falls. First talk with your doctor. You may need to have your vision as well as your balance and movement checked. Your prescription medications may need to be changed.
Many people can reduce their risk of falls by exercising, improving their balance and implementing safety measures at home.
One of the best exercises to help prevent falls is walking. You should walk regularly to avoid getting rusty. Water or pool exercises also can help prevent falls by helping you practice the skills needed for walking.
Improving your balance
To improve your balance and coordination, practice standing on one leg for short periods. You can hold onto a chair while you’re doing this to help keep your balance. You also might consider taking Tai Chi classes. This ancient Chinese discipline involves slow, dance-like movements that help relax and strengthen muscles and joints. One sturdy indicated that Tai Chi may help reduce your risk of falls by more than 47 percent.
Home safety tips
Some simple changes in your home also can reduce your risk of falls. Here’s a checklist:
- Keep electrical and telephone cords out of the way.
- Arrange furniture so you can easily move around it.
- Don’t use throw rugs. All carpeting should be secured to the floor.
- Use a step-stool to reach something from a high shelf or move items to lower shelves.
- Install grab bars on walls around the tub and beside the toilet.
- Use nonskid mats or adhesive strips on surfaces that will get wet.
- Put a light switch and the telephone within reach of your bed.
- Use a nightlight between the bedroom and bath.
- Keep stairs and hallways clear of clutter.
- Install handrails on both sides of the stairway.
- Wear rubber-soled shoes that have low heels.
Risks for High Blood Pressure
You may have inherited your blue eyes from your mother and brown hair from your father. And everyone says you look just like one of your grandparents. But you could have inherited more than your looks from the members of your family tree. You may also be carrying on a family tradition of high blood pressure.
If you have a close family member with the condition, then you run a higher risk of developing high blood pressure yourself. Other uncontrollable risk factors for the condition include race and increasing age. African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure, develop it sooner and be affected more severely than Caucasians. The condition also increases with age, occurring more often in people over the age of 35.
Some risk factors for developing the condition cannot be controlled, including heredity, race and age. But you can take steps to help delay or prevent the onset of high blood pressure by making healthy lifestyle choices. You run a higher risk of developing high blood pressure if you:
- Are obese – Losing even 10 pounds can reduce blood pressure.
- Eat too much salt – Try spicing up your food with herbs instead.
- Drink too much alcohol – Limit drinks to two a day for men or one for women.
- Don’t exercise enough – Aim for a 30-minute daily workout.
- Smoke – Talk to your doctor about quitting.
- Are stressed – Relax with yoga, read a book or take a walk.
The exact cause of most high blood pressure is not known. This is called essential or primary hypertension. However, in some cases, certain medical conditions can cause high blood pressure. This is called secondary hypertension and can result from kidney disease, sleep apnea, narrowing of the renal arteries, Cushing’s disease (and other diseases of the adrenal glands), or narrowing of the aorta (the main blood vessel that supplies blood from the heart to the body).
Some over-the-counter and prescription medications, supplements and other substances also can raise or worsen high blood pressure, or interfere with medications meant to lower blood pressure. These substances include certain antidepressants, cold medications and oral contraceptives, some nasal decongestants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), anorexia drugs, steroids and cocaine.
Approximately 72 million people in the United States, or one in three adults, have high blood pressure. About 30 percent of them don’t know they have the condition because it has no symptoms. By understanding your risk factors for high blood pressure you can reduce your chance of developing the condition. Making even small changes to your lifestyle can potentially avoid life-threatening complications such as stroke, heart failure, heart attack and kidney failure.