One in three seniors can expect to fall each year, making falls the number one cause of injury to older adults. But let’s face it, falls can mean a lot more than just physical injury. They can also undermine your confidence and sense of independence — which is why the recovery process is so critical. It can be slow, and sometimes painstakingly difficult, but recovering from a fall need not be a life-altering event.
Here are some important tips to help get you back on your feet.
Get checked out
First and foremost, don’t just pretend you’re fine. Get medical attention right away. Yes, you might walk away with a minor bruise or scrape, but you also might genuinely need medical care.
If you’re used to being active and won’t be happy sitting on the sidelines indefinitely, that’s understandable. But hobbling around on a sprained ankle or damaged knee will only drag out your recovery period and could lead to complications down the road. Find out about your immediate treatment options and any next steps.
Identify the Cause
Most folks can’t recall why or how a fall happened. A little trip or misstep, and suddenly you end up on the floor. But falls don’t often happen randomly. Among seniors, there’s usually an underlying cause. A past fall, balance problems, muscle or joint weakness or eye problems can all make falls more likely and more dangerous.
A good first step toward recovering from a fall is working with your doctor or caregiver to identify any underlying issue. You might note changes in your diet, medications, overall fitness and steadiness on your feet. Your doctor can order an assessment if you’ve felt weak or not quite yourself lately, and prescribe the right course of action or support. If you’re at high risk of fracture, which all of us are as we get older, your doctor may also prescribe medicines or vitamin supplements to keep your bones strong.
Improve Strength and Balance
Once you’ve recovered from the initial spill, you can continue to work on your recovery with strength and balance training. Most likely, your doctor recommended physical therapy as part of your recovery routine. This is an ideal environment in which to address or revisit muscle weakness or balance issues, and work to build strength in your upper and lower body.
If balance issues are the main culprits, physical therapy can be crucial to getting you back on your feet. Even if you’ve had a fracture, it’s important to work and strengthen the surrounding muscles so they don’t atrophy. If you’re not quite steady on your feet, your therapist can teach you a range of strength-building exercises to do while sitting in a chair.
It’s likely, too, that your doctor will recommend using a cane or other mobility aid, to give you extra stability and peace of mind as you get back on your feet.
Albert Einstein wisely said, “Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Hands down, the single-most effective strategy to improve balance and lessen the risk of falling again is staying physically active.
Once you’re ready, regular, daily exercise keeps the body active and responsive. Exercises like Tai chi can help with balance, prevent falls, reduce stress and deliver a whole batch of other great benefits. Other forms of exercise are also great to improve balance and aid in your recovery: walking, stationary bicycling, gentle yoga, swimming and any other activity that increases awareness and strength in the legs and feet.
Notice if your appetite has changed. On the one hand, you may be bingeing on snacks or comfort foods as life slowly gets back to normal. Or, because you’re less active and your appetite is down (or maybe because you’re depressed about the fall), you’re eating too little, and not getting enough nutrition for a fast recovery.
Keep tabs on your diet and try to eat regular, healthy meals with plenty of protein – AKA “eating for recovery,” as they say for sports injuries. You might also want to ask your doctor about vitamin supplements, especially vitamin D and calcium.
Reach out to friends and family if food shopping, stocking the fridge or food prep proves to be too much, too soon. Lastly, during your recovery, remember to nourish your mind. Stay engaged with reading, movies, social time, music and other favorite pursuits as your body is on the mend.
Take Your Time
Last but not least, give yourself (and your pride!) time to heal after a fall. The normal physiological healing time is 2 to 4 weeks for damage to soft tissues such as muscle, tendons and ligaments and 8 to 12 weeks or longer for bone fractures. Don’t worry if it takes you a bit longer.
There’s no one-size-fits-all timeline, so be sure to confer with your doctor or physical therapist. They will be able to counsel you on which activities you can return to, and what to do if you experience pain when you do.