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5 steps to reduce your risk of falling

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(BPT) - When you’re active and young at heart, it’s easy to forget that you may be losing some strength, flexibility and balance as you age.

Because these changes happen gradually, you may be unaware of the added risks of falling. That risk can sneak up on you as you’re busy enjoying life.

But the facts don’t lie: Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans, and over one-fourth of older adults falls each year.

Fall injuries can include hip fractures, broken bones and head injuries. Every year, medical costs spent on fall injuries are about $50 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But falling is not an inevitable part of aging. Many falls can be prevented by taking simple, proven steps. Here are five ways you can reduce your risk.

Start with a checkup. The first step is to understand your risk for falling. The National Council on Aging offers the Falls Free CheckUp, a simple online questionnaire that is based on research and guidance from the CDC. In a few short minutes, you can answer 13 yes or no questions, receive your falls risk score, and get easy steps you can take today to reduce your risk. You can even download your results to discuss with your doctor and sign up for a reminder to retake the Falls Free CheckUp six months later to see if your risk level has changed.

Remove hazards. A whopping 60% of all falls happen at home. That’s why it’s a good idea to walk through your home with a fresh, critical eye to determine whether any areas should be addressed. Floors should be clutter-free, with throw rugs either removed or held down with double-sided tape. All stairs should be well-lit and equipped with strong rails. In bathrooms, tubs, showers and toilets should be equipped with grab bars. Another great option is an in-shower chair used in combination with a hand-held shower head.

Keep on top of your health. Having regular checkups with your doctor will keep you aware of any changes that may have occurred, such as muscle weakness or issues with your vision, balance or gait. People with mild hearing loss are nearly three times as likely to fall as others. The symptoms of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis can also increase your risk of falling.

Stay active. Ask your doctor which kinds of exercises may help you reduce the risk of falling. Senior centers, YMCAs, Area Agencies on Aging and gyms often offer classes geared toward falls prevention, with many focusing on mobility, balance, strength, flexibility and/or behavioral changes that may help you.

Monitor your medications. Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, sleepiness or dehydration. Interactions with other medicines can also increase your risk of falling.

Learn more about how to stay independent and injury-free at NCOA.org.