Experts offer advice on how travelers over-50 can avoid falls when traveling.
It happened in a split second. One of my very fit girlfriends (who shall remain unnamed) was vacationing at a luxury resort in the southwest (which shall remain unnamed) and had a vacation experience she won’t soon forget.
After a not-too-shabby spa day, which included an outdoor workout session, yoga class and massage treatments, she got back to her guest room to shower in anticipation of dressing up for a farm-to-table dinner to be enjoyed on-site at the restaurant that evening.
As she was reaching for a bath towel on a warming rack several feet away from the shower, her wet foot suddenly slid on the slick tile floor propelling her across the room. Before she knew it, she was writhing in pain. Buck naked, she was able to finally hoist herself up using her left hand for leverage.
She managed to put on the terry bathrobe on the hook on the bathroom door before calling the resort receptionist for help. In the emergency room of the local hospital later that evening, she was diagnosed with a broken right wrist. As a result, she had to cut short her vacation and return home the next day with her arm in a splint.
Accidents wait to happen at home and away
Of course, accidents can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone and the results can be painful, even deadly. Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen recently died suddenly after a fall at his home.
The odds of falls tend to increase as we age, especially if an individual’s sense of balance is compromised by illness, disability, taking certain medications, and/or alcohol use. Risk increases exponentially after the age of 65. It is estimated that 2.4 million Americans over the age of 65 wind up in emergency rooms after falls, accounting for one ER visit every 13 seconds for people in this age group.
But environmental factors can also make travelers prone to falls. Travelers are vulnerable when they are navigating new environments (whether they are guestrooms, restaurants or cobblestone streets) that may be poorly lit, have uneven flooring or other risk factors that increase the chance of falls when traveling.
They may be struggling with suitcases or carrying bags or packages that throw off their balance. It’s common for travelers to be fatigued and distracted by all the stimulation around them. And anyone over the age of 50 knows that you don’t recover as quickly from a slip or tumble as you did when you were a kid.
Alistair Chapman, MD, is a board-certified general and critical care surgeon specializing in acute care surgery.
Laura Maclam, RN has more than 20 years experience caring for trauma patients and worked full-time as a paramedic for 15 years.
They both work with Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
MoreTimeToTravel recently asked these two experts for advice on how to minimize the risk of falls when traveling—for travelers over the age of 50:
What are some of the factors that make people more prone to falls when traveling?
When we travel we tend to drink less water. Dehydration can increase our risk of falling. Traveling in an unfamiliar area or during times of low light, such as daybreak or evening, also can reduce visibility and lead to a fall. In addition, fatigue and being busy can lead you to rush and reduce the amount of attention you pay to your surroundings. All of these factors increase the risk of falling while traveling.
When traveling, are the places people are likely to fall or the types of injuries they receive any different from those that occur at home?
You can sustain the same types of injuries from a fall at home or when traveling. There may be a slightly increased risk of falling in a hotel or sleeping area when traveling or when trying to move around at night in an unfamiliar area.
What special hazards do bathrooms pose? Can travelers make any easy modifications to prevent falls in hotels/resorts/etc.?
Slippery surfaces such as glossy tile or polished stone can be hazardous and increase the potential for a slip or fall. Travelers might want to look for a room with grab bars in the bathroom and a walk-in shower, which will decrease the risk of falling. Also, in handicap-accessible rooms, the doorways tend to be wider to accommodate wheelchairs and the rooms may have enhanced lighting.
When arriving at your hotel, look closely for loose or broken tile and request a bath slip mat if the shower does not have one. Also, bring along a nightlight so you can avoid moving around an unfamiliar place in the dark.
What steps can people in midlife take to prevent falls before they travel?
Travel is exciting, but can also be stressful. Plan to get plenty of rest and initiate a regular exercise plan prior to the trip to help build stamina and decrease the risk for fatigue when traveling. Eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of water during your trip. It’s also a good idea to speak with your doctor prior to your trip and ask about any health concerns.
How important is footwear? Do you have any advice on selecting shoes for a cruise, hikes or walking tours?
Pack comfortable shoes with non-skid soles. Avoid wearing flip flops, high heels or open-backed shoes. It is important to wear shoes you have worn before and that are comfortable. New shoes can lead to blisters and painful feet. If you think you might need additional support or stability, pack a cane or walker.
What should someone do if they fall when they are away from home?
If you fall while you are away, do not hesitate to be evaluated by a medical professional. It is helpful to medical staff if you are prepared with your medical history, so bring along a list of all medications, including over-the-counter medications, and the dosages and times you take them. Report any drug allergies. Also compile a list of your physicians. Share the list with a trusted friend or family member at home and e-mail it to yourself so you can access it while traveling.