By Pat Carragher - September 22, 2021
While many people find themselves spending more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to remember that approximately half of all falls happen in the home. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in Americans over age 65. Cancer patients are at an even greater risk because of the disease and its complicated treatments.
“In the general non-oncology older adult population, falls are in the top 10 causes of accidental death,” said Sandi Vonnes, a geriatric oncology practitioner at Moffitt Cancer Center. “While older cancer patients are at risk as well, many forget that cancer patients of any age are more likely to fall and injure themselves for a number of reasons.”
Approximately 20% of newly diagnosed cancer patients suffer a fall at home within the first six months after diagnosis. That’s usually due to medications, loss of strength, low blood counts, electrolyte imbalance, neuropathy or dehydration.
There are things you can do to make your living space safer:
- Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep rugs from slipping
- Keep items you use often in cabinets you can reach easily without using a step stool
- Install grab bars next to and inside of the bathtub and next to the toilet
- Use nonslip mats in the bathtub and on the shower floor
- Install bright lights in your home and hang lightweight curtains or shades to reduce glare
- Install handrails and lights on all staircases
- Place a lamp within reach of your bed for middle-of-the-night needs
- Avoid going barefoot inside or outside of your home
According to Vonnes, 50 to 80% of falls are bathroom related.
“These falls occur in the shower, in the bathtub or on the way to and from the bathroom,” Vonnes said. “Bathrooms are usually tiled, and that hard surface can cause severe damage in a fall. It’s important to be extremely careful there.”
When it comes to preventing falls, your physician can help by reviewing your prescriptions, over-the-counter medications and supplements to see if there could be side effects and interactions that may increase your risk of falling. Medicines may also have a different effect on your body as you age, which may increase your risk of falling.
Gentle exercises such as walking, water workouts and tai chi can improve balance and make your legs stronger, reducing your chances of falling.
Footwear also plays a major role in preventing falls. High heels, fuzzy slippers and shoes with slick soles, such as flip flops, may lead you to trip, slip and fall. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes with nonskid soles. Properly fitting, sensible shoes may also reduce joint pain.
“Pay attention to your footwear,” said Vonnes. “Floridians love their flip flops but those and sandals are a leading cause of falls because many patients have decreased sensitivity in their feet. Make sure you wear shoes that have a back so that your foot is less likely to get stuck and cause you to fall.”
Wearing the wrong glasses or living with glaucoma or cataracts can limit your vision and increase your chances of falling. Vonnes recommends getting an eye exam at least once a year and making sure your eyeglass prescription is up to date.