Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Falling With COPD
Each and every year, 1 in 3 adults age 65 and older take a tumble. Thousands of them die from their fall injuries. Many millions more suffer temporary or permanent injury and disability. A fall can even signal a slow (or rapid) slide to a very different, dependent lifestyle. And studies suggest that people with chronic illnesses such as COPD may be at greater risk of falls.
Risk Factors for Falling
Anyone can fall at any time. Even healthy, young people fall. I can attest to that... I'm not known for my grace and have taken many falls in my life.
However, certain people are more at risk for falling. As mentioned above, the older you get, the greater the risk that you will fall at some point. This risk rises dramatically as people age above 75 years.
Even more disturbing is the fact that injuries and serious disability from falls rise sharply with age. In other words, the older you are, the more likely you are to be seriously injured from a fall. So, while I've had a number of falls in my life, I've rarely been injured. Although that may change, as I am also getting older and closer every year to age 65.
If you have a chronic illness, you are at even higher risk of falling.
Why People Fall
There are many reasons why someone might fall. Here are some of the more common causes:
- Safety hazards in the physical environment
- Unstable joints
- Muscle weakness
- Visual impairment
- Balance problems
- Being on multiple medications
- Mental fogginess
It is easy to see that many of these factors may be interrelated.
Why People With COPD Are at Greater Risk
First of all, keep in mind that the majority of people who have COPD are older adults, although COPD does sometimes occur in younger people too. Still, more than 90% of people who have COPD are older than age 45. So, age alone is a strong risk if you have COPD.
A small study with 46 participants looked at additional risk factors for people with COPD. They compared 29 stable COPD patients and 17 who were in a flare to 17 healthy people of similar ages and backgrounds.
What they found was that the people who had COPD, particularly those undergoing a flare, had much worse balance than the healthy subjects. Those who were also suffering from anxiety and/or depression had even worse balance and a greater risk of falling.
They concluded that people with moderate to severe COPD were at significantly greater risk of falls and injuries.
Tips to Help Prevent Falls
There is no reason to assume, though, if you have COPD that a fall is inevitable. There are many steps you can take to greatly reduce your risk of falls and injuries.
1. Stay physically active. There are many benefits to staying active, but the top ones are that activity will help keep your muscles strong and your joints flexible and stable. And those 2 things will help with balance. Plus, weight bearing activities help reduce bone loss from osteoporosis. Keep walking as much as you can, even if it's just in the house and you need a walker or cane. If you can, get out and participate in group exercise such as Silver Sneakers or aqua fitness programs. Even yoga and Tai Chi can be beneficial. You can also ask your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation.
2. Reduce safety hazards. Falls often happen from tripping over throw rugs, extension cords and objects placed in walkways. Wet floors and icy steps/sidewalks are also a safety risk. Do what you can to lessen these risks in your home environment. And be careful climbing ladders and stepstools!
3. Maintain your vision and hearing. Get your vision and hearing tested regularly. Even small changes can lead to a fall. Take time to get used to new eyeglass prescriptions. If you have a hearing aid, wear it.
4. Pay attention to balance. Stand up slowly and wait a few seconds before you start walking, to give your body time to stabilize. If you notice a medication making you dizzy or unsteady, tell your doctor. Install grab bars in the shower and railings on steps. Use an assistive device if you need to, but make sure it's properly fitted to you and in good repair.
A Few More Tips
Here are a few more things you can do to stay safe:
- Wear rubber-soled or non-skid shoes with low heels; lace-up styles are best
- Put a non-slip mat or appliques in the tub/shower
- Add a bench in the shower
- Improve lighting in your home; use night lights
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink; it can affect your balance
- Get enough sleep; sleepy people often fall
Although you may have a high risk of falling when you have COPD, especially in the later stages, there is no need to stop living your life for fear of falling. In fact, the opposite is true. The more you take a proactive approach, the less chance you will have of falling.
Take the steps mentioned in this post and you just may find that you never have a serious fall. If you should fall, though, even if it's just a minor fall and you are not injured, be sure to tell your doctor. A fall can alert your doctor to things that need to be changed.
Have you taken our COPD In America Survey yet?