According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “As the U.S. population continues to age, we can expect more deaths from falls. We can also expect more hospitalizations and nursing home admissions as a result of falls.”
This statement makes it seem like there’s nothing we can do to prevent these fall-related deaths, hospitalizations, and nursing home admissions.
But that’s absurd!
There is a lot you can do, starting today, to maintain a strong gait, reduce your risk of falling, and avoid becoming another sad statistic.
Let me explain…
My 5-step plan to avoiding deadly falls
Let’s start by talking about how to avoid the single, biggest cause of falls in older adults…prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.
1.) Be careful about drugs and dosages. Many OTC and prescription drugs can cause dizziness and falls, even when taken as directed or prescribed. And, according to a recent study, some of the most notorious drugs for causing falls are:
- Benzodiazepines, which are prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia
- Muscle relaxants
- Prescription opioids
In addition, many people who take drugs for high blood pressure and high blood sugar end up suffering from dizzy spells, fainting, and falls. These problems typically occur when doctors keep the drugs’ dosages too high. (Remember, some science shows older adults may benefit from slightly higher blood pressure and blood sugar.)
In many cases, doctors fail to adjust and lower doses (or discontinue the drugs altogether) as the patient’s condition improves or their metabolism changes.
But often, falls among older adults stem from the growing problem of “polypharmacy”—or taking multiple drugs all at once…
Of course, we knew about the link connecting polypharmacy, dizziness, and falls by the 1970s, during my medical training. We often saw patients who were taking multiple drugs suffer from mental confusion, dizziness, and drowsiness. So, we’d stop all prescriptions for a day, and by the next day, the patients got better!
Since then, the problem of polypharmacy has only grown worse. In fact, for the typical case considered as polypharmacy, the patient once was taking nine drugs. Today, polypharmacy can typically refer to taking 15 drugs!
So, just as I’m telling you to be cautious of prescription and OTC drugs—also be cautious of how many drugs you’re taking. And try to avoid the three kinds of drugs I just listed, which we know are strongly associated with falls.
Finally, if you’re currently taking a prescription drug for high blood sugar or high blood pressure, make sure to have your doctor review your dosages regularly (at least once or twice a year), to ensure you’re only taking what’s necessary. Especially if you’re over 60.
2.) Follow a healthy, balanced diet. Osteoporosis (or “brittle bone” disease) is a major cause of falls and disability. And we now know that when a person has osteoporosis, the brittle bone typically breaks all on its own, and then the person falls. (Not necessarily the other way around.)
We also know that osteoporosis relates to inadequate levels of vitamin D, vitamin C, and other minerals like calcium and magnesium. However, taking a calcium supplement is not the answer to weak bones. Plus, studies show calcium supplements actually raise your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and dementia. (Though some doctors still haven’t gotten the memo, apparently.)
That’s why I always advise you to get your calcium exclusively from adopting a healthy, balanced Mediterranean-type diet that includes plenty of nutrient-dense foods—like beans; full-fat dairy (including milk, eggs, yogurt, and cheeses); fruits; heart-healthy fats from wild-caught fish and olive oil; grass-fed and -finished meats (like lamb); nuts; and vegetables.
This sensible, enjoyable diet will naturally provide your body with plenty of calcium and other important vitamins and minerals for healthy bones—along with plenty of protein, which your body also needs to build muscle mass and avoid falls.
3.) Protect your neurological functions with key supplements. Science shows when a person experiences a decline in eyesight, inner ear function, and brain processing, it can disrupt their balance and proprioception (your sense of where your body is in space). As a result, the risk of falls increases.
Fortunately, there are many natural supplements that support these key neurological functions, including:
- 500 mg of berberine (from barberry)
- 12 mg of lutein
- 400 mg of water-soluble blueberry powdered extract, or 600 mg of grape plus wild blueberry extract
- 400 mg of turmeric (curcumin)
- 5 mg of pyridoxine (B6)
- 800 mcg of folic acid (folate)
- 20 mcg of cyanocobalamin (B12)
- 2.5 mg of thiamin
4.) Stay active, no matter what your age. Science shows that engaging in just 140 to 150 minutes of physical activity per week is an optimal amount to improve your overall health and longevity. This sensible approach will also help you maintain muscle strength and keep your joints, ligaments, and tendons flexible and responsive.
For older adults, I highly recommend trying gentle exercises like walking, water “workouts” (like a casual swim), and movement therapies (like tai chi). These approaches provide benefits without wearing out and damaging your muscles and joints. Plus, they minimize the risk of falls while actually performing exercise! In addition, a bodywork or physical therapist can design a program to help improve your balance, if you need additional guidance.
And a word of caution: When exercising outside in Nature, make sure to watch where you step. Outdoor surfaces of cracked sidewalks, grass with divots or holes, and sand can be uneven. Icy and wet surfaces are worse. So, always choose sensible footwear and consider taking along a nice, wooden walking stick. (Where my daughter worked as a state park ranger a year ago, you could buy or borrow a hand-crafted walking stick with a built-in compass and hand grips.)
5.) Make some safety modifications to your home. I also encourage you to make some very simple modifications to your home to help you avoid falls—like installing handrails, avoiding furniture that sits too low to the floor, improving lighting, and placing skid-free mats under throw rugs.
Of course, there are many more simple, natural strategies to stay vibrant, youthful, and healthy well into your 70s, 80s, 90s—and beyond—in my new online learning protocol, The Insider’s Ultimate Guide to Outsmarting “Old Age.” To learn more, or to enroll today, simply click here now.
“Study: Older Americans Are Dying More From Falls.” WebMD, 6/4/2016. (webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20190604/study-older-americans-are-dying-more-from-falls#1)
“Polypharmacy, Hazardous Alcohol and Illicit Substance Use, and Serious Falls Among PLWH and Uninfected Comparators.” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome 2019; 82(3): 305–313. doi.org/10.1097/QAI.0000000000002130