Falls are the leading cause of death, injury and hospital admissions among the elderly population. In fact, one out of every three seniors falls every year. Last year alone, more than 1.6 million seniors were treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries.
Several factors contribute to the fact that seniors fall so much more frequently than younger people:
- Lack of Physical Activity
Failure to exercise regularly results in poor muscle tone, decreased bone mass, loss of balance, and reduced flexibility.
- Impaired Vision
This includes age-related vision diseases, as well as not wearing glasses that have been prescribed.
Sedatives, anti-depressants, and anti-psychotic drugs, plus taking multiple medications are all implicated in increasing risk of falling.
Health conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and arthritis cause weakness in the extremities, poor grip strength, balance disorders and cognitive impairment.
Hip replacements and other surgeries leave an elderly person weak, in pain and discomfort and less mobile than they were before the surgery.
- Environmental Hazards
One third of all falls in the elderly population involve hazards at home. Factors include: poor lighting, loose carpets and lack of safety equipment.
However, falls are not an inevitable part of growing older. Many falls can be prevented, by making the home safer and using products that help keep seniors more stable and less likely to fall.
Preventing Falls in an Elderly Person's Home
Caregivers can do several things to make the home safer for their senior mom or dad.
- Install safety bars, grab bars or handrails in the shower or bath.
- Put no-stick tape on the floor in the tub.
- Use a stool riser seat to make getting on and off the toilet easier.
- Install at least one stairway handrail that extends beyond the first and last steps.
- Make sure stairs are sturdy with strong hand railings.
- Be sure that stairwells are well-lit. Consider making the lighting in your home brighter to aid vision.
- Make sure rugs, including those on stairs, are tacked to the floor.
- Remove loose throw rugs.
- Avoid clutter. Remove any furniture that is not needed. All remaining furniture should be stable and without sharp corners, to minimize the effects of a fall.
- Change the location of furniture, so that your elderly parent can hold on to something as they move around the house.
- Do not have electrical cords trailing across the floor. Have additional base plugs installed so long cords are not necessary.
- Have your parent wear non-slip shoes or slippers, rather than walking around in stocking feet.
- Make sure all rooms have adequate lighting. Consider motion-sensitive lights that come on when a person enters a room. Use night lights in every room.
- Keep frequently used items in easy-to-reach cabinets.
- Use a grasping tool to get at out-of-reach items, rather than a chair or stepladder.
- Keep the water heater thermostat set at 120 degrees F, or lower, to avoid scalding and burns.
- Wipe up spills and remove broken glass immediately.
Tools and Equipment to Increase Safety
Monitors and Sensor Pads
Sensors work well for the bed, chair, or toilet. The pads electronically detect the absence of pressure, which in turn sends an electronic signal to the monitor setting off an alarm. Used on a bed, the pressure pads can be under or on top of the mattress. They are very thin, so they do not disturb sleeping and are plugged into the monitor via a telephone type line. Chair and toilet sensors work in the same way.
There are also pad/monitors that detect and sound an alarm if a person steps on the pad (detects pressure). This type of pad can be used beside the bed, in a hallway or in front of a chair while the person is seated.
Fall mats are used in areas where a person could be injured from a fall on a hard floor such as the side of a bed, by a toilet or in front of a chair. They are cushioned floor mats of various sizes 1-inch or 2-inches thick with beveled edges. They cushion the fall and prevent injuries.
These devices provide extra stability and assistance during transfers. They are typically installed in areas where a senior may need something to hold on to for added balance. Bathrooms are a common location for grab bars, since they can help seniors sit down and get up from the toilet and enter and exit the bathtub or shower safely.
Shower Chair or Transfer Bench
When getting in and out of the tub, transfer benches provide stability and help the caregiver get the elderly seniors in and out of the tub safely, without injuring the elderly person or the caregiver.
Install these on the bath tub or shower floor. The hard rubber material prevents the elderly person from slipping and provides stability.
Canes and Walkers
They help seniors feel steady on their feet. Make sure the mobility device you choose is the correct height for your elderly parent, and has rubber tip or other traction on the bottom, for safety.
Socks, Shoes and Slippers
Wearing properly fitted, low-heeled, non-slip footwear for walking and transferring provides traction and is much safer than going barefoot or wearing normal socks. Many socks and shoes are available with non-skid treads on the bottom to reduce slipping accidents. Avoid slip-on shoes that can easily come on and off and cause your loved one to trip.
Lift slings are used to move an elderly person who is unable to move themselves from bed to a wheelchair or chair. There are 3 common reasons that caregivers may need a lift: if the elderly parent is too heavy to be transferred without assistance; to prevent injury to the caregiver; and to prevent the elderly person from injury or falling.