Preventing Falls Outside the Home

By Jodi Rigotti

You may have taken plenty of precautions to ensure that your house is a fall-free zone: you have slip-resistant rugs, hand rails by the bathtub, no loose wires. But did you know that many areas outside the home, such as parks, malls and office buildings, can present a whole new set of challenges?

Each year, more than 11 million senior citizens suffer a fall, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. That's one out of every three people older than 65. Fortunately, you can take steps to significantly reduce your chances of taking a spill while you're out and about; it just takes a little mindfulness and preparation. Let these tips help you on your way.

Select the right shoes

When it comes to staying steady, your shoes may be your most important piece of attire, so make sure you choose wisely. High heels and shoes with thick soles, for example, won’t give you the stability you need; opt instead for footwear with thinner, non-skid soles, the National Osteoporosis Foundation suggests. Also, lace-ups are a better bet than slip-ons because they allow for a snugger and more secure fit.

Slow down

Whether you’re trying to make it to a doctor’s appointment on time or aiming to get to the post office before it closes, you’re more likely to take a tumble when you’re in a rush, so be sure to factor at least 15 extra minutes into your schedule. That way you’ll be able to go at a pace that’s safe and comfortable for you.

Always pay attention

While walking outside, you can be tempted to talk on the phone, listen to music or simply let your mind wander, but if you’re not fully aware of your surroundings, you won’t be able to react quickly if something gets in your way—be it a speedy squirrel, a raised section of the sidewalk or, even worse, a car. Be sure to keep your gaze ahead and your hands free at all times.  

Assess all surfaces

Floors made of highly polished marble or tile can be extremely slippery. And any surface is hazardous when wet. Before stepping into a new area, take a moment to evaluate it first. You may even want to rub one foot on the floor to determine how solid your footing will be.

Be careful of curbs

Before stepping up or down from a curb, check its height so that you’re not caught by surprise. Also, watch out for curbs that have been cut away to allow access for bikes or wheelchairs—you’ll need to take extra care when navigating the incline.

If you’re planning to return home when it’s dark, be sure you’ve left a porch light on so that you’ll have clear visibility. Worried about wasting electricity? Set the light to a timer so that it turns on at a specific hour.

Published December 2013

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