Falls can occur for many different reasons, but there are a number of simple preventative measures that can be taken to significantly reduce a senior’s risk of falling and incurring a serious injury.
Create a Fall-Proof Environment
A loss of footing (tripping) and traction (slipping) is to blame for most falls. An ideal, fall-proof home environment features even, non-slip walking surfaces throughout. While this may seem unattainable, especially for those in multi-level residences, there are minor changes and home modifications that can reduce an elder’s fall risk.
- Keep all rooms free of clutter, especially the floors. Furniture should be easy to walk around and walkways should be clear. That means no electrical cords, throw rugs or other trip hazards.
- Keep floor surfaces clean and dry but not slippery.
- Check that all carpets and area rugs have skid-proof backing or are firmly secured to the floor, including carpeting on stairs.
- Be sure that all stairwells are adequately lit and have sturdy handrails on both sides. Consider placing fluorescent tape on the edges of each step to avoid missteps.
- Install grab bars on bathroom walls beside tubs, showers and toilets. For those who tire easily or are unstable on their feet, consider using a transfer bench or shower chair for increased stability.
- Use a non-slip spray treatment or permanent non-slip strips to provide added traction on the floors of showers and bathtubs.
- Ensure that light switches are located near the entry points of each room to prevent fumbling in the dark. Another option is to install voice- or sound-activated lamps.
- Reorganize closets, cabinets and other storage areas to minimize the need to bend down or reach up to retrieve commonly used items.
Choose Appropriate Footwear
Seniors often have a favorite pair of shoes or slippers, but if they are worn out, ill-fitting or an impractical style, they can be a serious fall hazard. Supportive, low-heeled shoes with non-slip soles are ideal. Wear them both inside and outside the home, and avoid walking around in socks, stockings, or backless slippers.
Engage in Physical Activity
Regular physical activity is the first line of defense against falls and fractures. As people get older, they typically become less active and begin to lose muscle mass and tone. This leads to a decrease in strength, coordination, and flexibility and an increase in fall risk. Work with a doctor or physical therapist to create a exercise program that is right for your aging loved one. An exercise regimen can help seniors improve their stamina and mobility, regardless of their age.
Use Prescribed Mobility Aids
Elders are often reluctant to get (and consistently use) a mobility aid, even though these devices can play a key role in helping them continue to lead safe and active lives. It is important to ensure they are using the proper mobility aid and using it correctly. A physical therapist or occupational therapist should conduct an assessment, prescribe a device, and educate the patient on how to use it.
Receive Regular Eye Exams
Even small changes in sight can make a senior more prone to falling. Encourage aging loved ones to wear their eyeglasses (and use low vision aids, if necessary) so they can see their surroundings clearly. Regular eye exams are crucial for ensuring a senior is wearing the correct prescription and screening for eye diseases.
If your elder gets new glasses, encourage them to be extra cautious while they are getting used to them. For example, bifocal and trifocal lenses can cause altered depth perception while walking. This makes it easy to lose one’s balance and fall. To prevent this, people who wear bifocals or trifocals must practice looking straight ahead and lowering their head.
Check All Medications
As people get older, they are more likely to suffer from a variety of chronic medical conditions that require medication. Seniors with illnesses that affect their circulation, sensation, mobility or mental alertness are more likely to fall. Certain prescriptions cause side effects, such as dizziness, confusion, drowsiness, fluctuations in blood pressure or slowed reflexes that can contribute to accidents as well.
Seniors should see their doctor or pharmacist for a medication review (also known as a brown bag check-up) every time their regimen changes or at least once a year to ensure they are taking their medications correctly and that none of them are interacting. Over-the-counter medications and supplements can cause problems as well, so be sure to include these in the review.
Consult the Doctor
Falls and fractures are not an inevitable part of growing older, and many can be prevented. Your loved one’s doctor can assess their risk of falling and suggest personalized strategies for improving mobility and preventing injury.