Focus on Fitness: Strategies for seniors to reduce their risk of falling



By Gloria Schwartz

I recently delivered a falls prevention workshop at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre to AJA 50+. I want to share with you some of the information that I presented because it may help prevent some of you or your loved ones from experiencing a fall.

When I researched the topic of seniors (age 65-plus) and falls, I was shocked by the statistics. Falls are the most common cause of injury in seniors. One in three Canadian seniors experienced a fall in the past 12 months. Every 10 minutes in Ontario, a senior goes to a hospital emergency room as the result of a fall. Seventy-five thousand Canadian seniors are hospitalized each year due to falls and more than a third of them end up in long-term care facilities. Falls are the sixth leading cause of death in seniors.

Most falls are preventable. Half of all falls occur in the home. By identifying and modifying areas of your home that are tripping and slipping hazards, you can make your home much safer. Also, there are a variety of things you can do with regard to your physical fitness, health and nutrition that can reduce your risk of falling. I’ve reviewed a number of falls prevention checklists produced by various governmental organizations. They each had some different recommendations so I consolidated them and produced a checklist that you can access from my website ( I am sharing it because I want seniors to be proactive and make small changes that can save them lots of suffering. It’s recommended that you go through the checklist once each year. Examples of items on the checklist include getting regular vision and hearing tests, discussing with your physician any falls you have experienced in the past year, and asking questions about possible side effects of your medications.

Having a realistic concern about falling can motivate you to be more aware of your surroundings. However, some people are so scared of falling that they stop exercising or participating in physical and social activities. This can lead to weaker muscles and bones as well as depression, all risk factors for falling.

Falling is not a natural part of aging. You can do a self-assessment to determine if you’re at an increased risk for falling. Give yourself one point for each of these statements you say “Yes” to.

–          I have fallen in the past year.

–          I use or have been advised to use a cane or walker to get around safely.

–          Sometimes I feel unsteady when I walk.

–          I steady myself holding onto furniture when I walk in my home.

–          I am worried about falling.

–          I need to push with my hands to get up from a chair.

–          I have some trouble when stepping up onto a curb.

–          I often have to rush to the toilet.

–          I have lost some feeling in my feet.

–          I often feel sad or depressed.

If you scored four or more points, you have an increased risk of falling.

What should you do if, despite your best efforts, you fall?

At the workshop, I demonstrated recommended ways to get up from the floor. It’s a good idea to practice getting up at home so in the event of a fall, you have some strategies. I’ve posted a third-party video on my website showing what to do if you fall.

During the workshop I showed the participants several exercises to improve strength and balance that they can practice at home. Some of the exercises are listed on the checklist mentioned earlier. As with any exercise, before you begin you should make sure you have your physician’s approval to proceed. Taking exercise classes geared for older adults is a good way to reduce your risk of falling, as is working with a personal trainer who has experience in this area.

As I told my audience, knowledge is power. Don’t wait until you fall. Take action now. Apply the information and do what’s necessary to reduce your risk of falling.