Editor’s Note: Falls Prevention Awareness Week is September 18-22 this year. The theme is “From Awareness to Action,” as reflected in the title of this post. Former peer advisor Mary Hiland, and current peer advisor, Empish Thomas reflect on avoidable accidents and tips for preventing falls.
Preventing Falls and Accidents
by Mary Hiland, former VisionAware Peer Advisor
Would you believe that I’ve been punched in the nose by a refrigerator, a closet door ajar, and even a wall? It’s all been caused by my hurrying frantically to get just one more task done, just one more email answered, just one more load in the washer before my ride comes.
Slow Down and Pay Attention
I hate sitting around, even for a couple of minutes, waiting for a ride, but I hate going out into the world with a black eye even more.
Most of my minor injuries have been caused by rushing and therefore scraping my hand on a corner, banging my shins on an open dishwasher door, tripping over a dog toy, or bumping my hip against a chair. But the majority of accidents happen when I’m not focused on the task at hand, that is, to get from point A to point B safely and with dignity. In other words, I need to pay more attention to what I’m doing.
Pay Attention and Memorize
Here’s one of the most poignant examples of what happens when I don’t focus on the task at hand.
I confidently walked up five or six steps with my guide dog to enter a building and was directed to a room where a workshop was being held. I knew the presenter, and we had made plans to go to another meeting together after this workshop was over. As we walked out of the building talking, I was concentrating on our conversation and trying to be clever and attentive to him, not to where my feet were taking me. When we approached the steps, my friend, being sighted, did not stop at the top as a guide dog would; instead, he just stepped off and continued down the steps.
My guide dog did the same, that is, did not stop and continued down the steps. However, when I stepped off the first step, my next step was into thin air, and I landed quite embarrassed and beat up at the bottom of the steps. My dog was mortified. My skirt was up around my hips, and my knees were scraped and bleeding. My friend was concerned and apologetic, but it wasn’t his fault. Had I not been trying to flirt, I would have remembered those steps. I would have been more cautious as we approached them, thus giving the heads up to my dog that she needed to stop at the top of the flight, not the bottom.
Ever since then, as a totally blind traveler, I vowed to concentrate, be aware and memorize the obstacles and clues along the way for a safe return.
Obstacles Jump Up and Hit Me
Whenever I bend over to pick something up off the floor, a shoe, a dropped tissue, a fork, or to tie my shoe, straighten a throw rug, or retrieve a dog toy, the strangest thing happens. The back of a chair, a corner of a table, or even a doorknob will jump up and clobber me in the face or the top of my head.
I’ve developed a habit of shielding my face with the inside of my elbow each time I bend over just in case this should happen again. You never know. But the first time I forget, bam; it happens again. No matter how sure I am that I am far away from such jumping objects, every once in a while, they trick me and off to church I go with a bump on my forehead. Talk about the bumps in life! All I can do is try to slow down, be aware, and pay attention.
Sit in a chair and don’t move all day. No, just kidding. Being blind is not an excuse to be a couch potato. It is not a reason for acting helpless. It is the motivation to learn to move around, do what you need to do, and have fun! Hard knocks are part of life, blind or not, but thinking first can soften the blows. Continue reading and find more tips about preventing falls.
Fall Prevention Is Not Just for Older People
by Empish Thomas, VisionAware Peer Advisor
When I search for information and resources on fall prevention, they always seem to be geared toward older people. But falls can happen to anyone at any age. I know this is true because I have had a couple of falls in the last few years, and I am in my early fifties. As a result, I am much more aware of the way I live my life so I can prevent more falls in my future.
For example, I don’t talk on my cell phone while walking with my white cane. Talking on the phone while trying to navigate and use proper mobility skills can cause major distractions and possibly a nasty fall.
Ten Tips and Suggestions To Prevent Falls
As we embark on Fall Prevention Awareness Week, I want to share some tips and suggestions to help you, as a person who is blind or low vision, prevent falls, regardless of your age.
First, don’t be in denial.
As I shared earlier, understand that anyone can fall, and that includes you. Falls can happen to anyone, not just those in poor health, frail, or older. Once you recognize this, you can start to put things in place to prevent falls. I had my first major fall when I was in my late twenties. I was on public transportation, got distracted, and was not paying attention to where I was going. Now, when I travel, I work much harder at staying mentally focused and alert to concentrate on my mobility. This means using my white cane properly, using handrails, and keeping my conversation with others brief. If I am not feeling well or tired, I might not travel. Not feeling well physically can cause a fall.
Manage your eye condition and medications.
Know what is going on with your eyes and any eye medication you need to take. Additionally, keeping track of medications in general is essential. Some have side effects that could cause sleepiness, dizziness, fatigue, or other things that impact your ability to stay steady on your feet.
Take the time and let your eyes adjust to light-changing conditions.
This is especially important if you have low vision. I remember when I wore triple bifocals and had to use sun slip shades instead of sunglasses. Once I removed the sunshades, I would have to step over to the corner of the building’s entrance to let my eyes adjust to the indoor light before proceeding. If I didn’t do this, I had difficulty seeing and was subject to slipping and falling on the carpet, steps, or floor.
Stop wearing high heels.
When I first became blind, I got rid of my high heels. Due to my vision loss, I noticed my stride was off — I was afraid of falling as a result. Today I wear flats, wedges, or 1-inch heels. I still feel feminine but know I am protecting myself from falling or slipping.
Start an exercise program.
I have found that exercise is very helpful in fall prevention. I walk on my treadmill, ride my exercise bike, use hand weights, and do floor exercises regularly. All of these activities help tone and strengthen my body. Exercise also helps with balance and general motor skills. Check out fall prevention programs in your community such as Matter of Balance, which has been adapted for people who are blind or low vision.
If you have stairs in your home, install or use the existing banister for support.
I have stairs and a very strong, sturdy banister in my home. I insisted on it when I purchased my home. I grab that banister each time I go up and down the stairs.
Don’t carry too many things when going up and down steps.
I have discovered that holding too many items can cause me to slip and be off balance. My workaround is to put items in a tote bag and place them on my shoulder or arm — leaving my hands free. This is also good practice when you are out and about. Being loaded down with too many bags, especially heavy ones, puts you off balance and can cause a fall. If you have to carry multiple bags, distribute the weight or use a backpack or roller bag on wheels.
Watch out for rugs and runners.
Most people have rugs or floor mats in their home. If they are not secure on the floor or carpet, they can cause a fall. I have fabric runners to protect my carpet. I am very mindful of them and watch my step so as not to slip and fall. I check them from time to time to be sure they are securely in place on the carpet.
I have a townhome, and my dining room and living room are combined. I have a lot of space to walk and move around without bumping into the furniture. I purchased furniture with rounded edges versus pointed edges to avoid bumps and bruises. You can use your furniture as landmarks and use a trailing technique to navigate larger rooms.
Don’t leave shoes, bags, cords, or other items on the floor.
Return loose belongings to their place so that you don’t trip on them. If you live with others, encourage them to do the same.
My suggestions and tips for fall prevention have little to do with age. They are more about lifestyle, awareness, and planning. Falls can happen to anyone at any time in life, but they can usually be prevented with some awareness, education, and preparation. My tips and suggestions are not exhaustive. Check out some more resources below including our fall prevention plan article.
Learn More: Avoiding Accidents at Home
Searching for Dropped Objects
Protecting Your Body
The White Cane: A Tool for Fall Prevention
Indoor Movement and Orientation: Use Your Senses
Fall Prevention Resources
Protect Your Independence: Create a Fall Prevention Plan – ConnectCenter (aphconnectcenter.org)
Falls Prevention Awareness Week Toolkit (ncoa.org)
Prevention and Intervention: Impact of Low Vision and Risk of Falls – YouTube