We all want to age as safely as possible. But some hazards are hard to avoid as we grow older. Falling down is near the top of the list.
Wisconsin has the unfortunate distinction of having highest rate of fall-related deaths in the United States, more than twice the national rate. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, more than 40,000 people aged 65 and older were in an emergency room due to an accidental fall in 2019, and more than 1,670 people died from these injuries.
Falls cause more than physical harm. They also take a toll on our emotional wellness. Falling often leads to anxiety about future accidents, making people hesitant to stay active. That can result in increased isolation, depression and reluctance to exercise, which in turn affects physical health.
“Stepping On” is a program sponsored by the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging (WIHA) that educates people about the risks of falls and how to prevent them. Designed for adults over 60 who live independently, the program is seven weeks long, with one two-hour session per week. Online sessions and in-person classes are available around the state. Topics include vision, physical therapy, community safety and pharmacy concerns. Members of the Council’s Vision Services team are frequent presenters on the parts of the curriculum related to vision loss and its connection to falls.
For those who are concerned that their changing vision is putting them in greater danger of falling, here are some concrete actions that can help reduce the risk:
- Schedule a dilated eye exam. Your doctor will evaluate your eyes for cataracts and any other conditions that may affect your vision and possibly contribute to an increased fall risk. You might also need an updated eyeglass prescription.
- Clean your glasses frequently.
- Provide more contrast around your home and anywhere else you can. Low contrast means similar shades of color blending together, making it harder to identify separate objects or places. Adding contrasting color tape to outdoor areas and brightly colored pillows to a solid-colored sofa may reduce the chance that you’ll miss a step or trip over the corner of the sofa.
- As we age, our eyes adjust more slowly to changing light, such as when entering a darkened theater or stepping outside on a bright, sunny day. At home, consider placing a chair in an entryway or close to the porch door. That’ll allow you to pause for a few minutes to let your eyes adjust. Remembering to turn on lights or adding more lights if possible can help.
- Wear lighter rather than darker shades of sunglasses. They protect against ultraviolet light and soften the daytime sun without impeding vision as much.
You can find a “Stepping On” program near you on the WIHA website.