Believe it or not, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans; one in three people 65 years of age or older falls every year. While it’s often assumed otherwise, falling is not an inevitable part of aging. In fact, through simple lifestyle adjustments, you can help reduce the danger of falling for the seniors in your life.
Assess Medication & Health
Medications play a surprising role in falls. Side effects can cause a wide variety of symptoms including dizziness, fatigue, and confusion. Work with your loved one to make a list of their prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements. Have a doctor review the list for side effects and interactions that may increase the risk of falling.
Certain eye and ear disorders can also cause a fall. Discuss health conditions with your senior — how comfortable they are when they walk and if they have been experiencing any dizziness, joint pain, numbness, or shortness of breath. Pass any concerns along to their doctor.
Poor vision makes it much harder to get around safely. Make sure your loved one has their eyes checked every year — and that their glasses or contact lenses is the right prescription strength to ensure clear sight.
Physical activity goes a long way toward fall prevention — and there are a number of ways you can help keep your seniors mobile. Activities such as walking, water aerobics, and tai chi are low impact and reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility.
Remove Home Hazards
Take a look around your loved one’s home. You might find their living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, hallways, and stairways filled with hazards. To make their home safer, go through each room and ensure the following:
- There is no clutter on the bedroom floor.
- Clothes in the closet are easy to reach.
- Light switches are within reach of the bed.
- Lamps, telephones, or flashlights are placed near the bed.
- Beds are easy to get into and out of.
- Sheets and comforters are made of cotton or linen, rather than silk or satin.
- A night light is installed along the route from the bedroom to the bathroom.
- Bare floors are unwaxed and loose floorboards are repaired.
- Carpets and area rugs are secured with double-faced tape, tacks, or slip-resistant backing.
- Throw rugs are removed entirely.
- Door sills higher than a half inch are taken out.
- Floors and pathways are free of clutter.
- Walkways are clear of electric, appliance, and telephone cords.
- Light switches are installed at room entrances.
- Furniture is arranged to create a clear pathway between rooms.
- Low-rise coffee tables, magazine racks, footrests, and plants are out of the path of traffic.
- Floors are unwaxed.
- Any liquids, grease, or food spilled on the floor is cleaned up immediately.
- Non-skid mats are placed on the floor near the stove and sink.
- Food, dishes, and cooking equipment are kept within easy reach.
- Stairs are clear of packages, boxes, or clutter
- Light switches are installed at the top and bottom of the stairs.
- Stairwell is well lit.
- Loose area rugs are removed from the bottom or top of the stairs.
- Non-slip treads are affixed to bare steps.
- Handrails are present on both sides of the stairway and extend the full length of the stairs.
- Loose stairway carpeting or boards are replaced immediately.
- Non-slip rugs are arranged adjacent to the bathtub or shower.
- Grab bars are installed on the bathroom walls beside the tub, shower, and toilet.
- The toilet is equipped with a raised seat.
- A rubber mat or nonskid adhesive textured strips are placed inside the tub.
- Glass shower enclosures are replaced with non-shattering material.
When you’re on the go with your loved ones, encourage them to employ the following advice to prevent falls in public places:
- Wear low-heeled shoes with high traction rubber soles.
- Use hand rails when going up and down steps and on escalators.
- If sidewalks look slippery, walk in the grass for more solid footing.
- Be mindful of floors in public buildings. Those made of highly polished marble or tile can be very slippery — especially when wet.
- Wear a shoulder bag, fanny pack, or backpack to leave hands free.
- Use a walker or cane as needed.
- Stop at curbs and check the height before stepping up or down.
One in five falls cause a serious injury such as a broken bone or head trauma. These injuries can make it difficult for a person to get around, accomplish everyday tasks, or live independently.
Many of those who fall, but are not injured, become afraid of falling. This fear can lead to a senior to cut down on their daily activities — causing a decrease in their quality of life. You can keep your loved ones as happy and independent as possible by making fall prevention an everyday part of life.
Liz Greene is a writer and former preschool teacher. She’s a lover of all things geek and is happiest when cuddling with her dogs and catching up on the latest Marvel movies. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene