How to Prevent a Senior from Falling

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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 physical activity program that is right for your aging loved one. An exercise regimen can help seniors improve their stamina and mobility, regardless of their age.

Read: Exercise for the Elderly

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.

Read: Expert Advice: How to Choose a Mobility Aid

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.

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3 Comments

These tips are fine, but I am only 59 and have been "officially" disabled since 1996. I worked the usual jobs as a teenager would when I was young. I tried to work from 1983(?) through 1996. This was when my children were young. Before [ even had my own kids, I had worked at a preschool as a teacher and at a highly rated preschool in Southern California for three straight years. I also had college classes then and later in the study of psychology of neonatal to teen years, and later in life, after three years at the UCSF Pain Treatment Center, I studied psychology and abnormal psychology as an adult in the mid 1990's. I have suffered moderate to severe pain since 1983.

I was doing what any person would, with the help of a friend, to move our furniture away from the walls for the government painters to keep up the homes of National Park Service at our house near Yosemite As my friend and I moved one heavier piece of furniture away from the wall, I experienced the most excruciating pain shoot from my neck to my arms and down my back. After three years of physical therapy and the usual pain medications, there was still not much improvement, but I also was working at our local General Store either full time or part time. In 1986, my specialist in San Francisco found out that I did have degenerative disc disease. I was only 26ears of age, and a dancer, Ballet as a child for about 10 years, and I was one of the first to join our little community dance class. it was my favorite exercises even though it was only 2-3 times a week because it didn't interfere with my work and I felt extremely healthy, not to mention well shaped and truly happy that I looked good again after never really having a good self image in my entire life. Then 1986 occurred, and the ability to find out what and where the injury I received in 1983 was, and the fact that the only cure for the injury was surgery, did not exactly make me happy, but I was relieved to finally find out what was causing all the pain. My surgeon said it would help, but likely would also mean more surgery in the future. Here I was feeling so good about myself, and working too, AND also a full time Mom to my two children who were very important to me because I had seen, as a preschool teacher what the absence of both parents would do to most children at the age of 3,4, and 5.
after the surgery in 1986, I did heal quickly, and within 4 months I was able to return to work. unfortunately I did suffer from what they called "fibromyalgia", so the pain signals that I received never let up until I spent almost 3 full years, traveling to San Francisco with a friend who had already completed the course once, and spending nights with her at her folks house or her in-laws home during the 3 days of classes that included several other means of therapy, which of course included physical therapy.
My neck, even after all that work was OK. but they said that the severity of my fibromyalgia was severe, and that even though I had come a long way, the pain would probably never go away because my condition was degenerative. They were right, and no matter how hard I tried to work, I kept suffering severe pain.
My answer to this problem was to remain as involved as I always had in youth sports for my kids. My husband, who gave of himself so readily to both of our kids and community for almost 20 years, was an inspiration to also keep me busy even when I hurt so badly. I was the Youth Soccer League Registrar for 3 full years. my husband was a coach for almost 20 years and then president of the Soccer League when no one else would or wanted to be. I always laughingly called my job as registrar the job from hell, but only because we lived in a rural area and I had lived in all of the parts of the county, so I was aware of the difficulties that presented themselves when it came down to working parents, rides home from school with friends, and of course the usual problem that so many of our kids had of paying for the yearly fee just to have the opportunity to play soccer, and I'm sure that it was also true of Little League also. When our youngest became an official referee at the age of 18, I had just given up my job on the board as registrar and was able to sit in the stands with a special chair that supported my back. And yes, off and on there were surgeries on my neck. It was a fall that I had at my home while outside with a bag of paper towels in one arm, and another arm carrying toilet paper, when our 3 loving dogs had been playing right outside our home and did not see me until it was too late. My good friends saw it happen and told me not to move. of course I started to, but quickly realized that they were right. I was 44 when this happened and was soon being carefully walked into the house by my friends. God bless them for helping and thank God they were there. I called my Doctor, who was the only intern in town. he said to my husband, you had better take her to Fresno, (only a 2 hour drive), and have neck and spinal x-rays. I was in tears by the time I got there and my loving supportive husband was the driver. After receiving my x-rays, I was told that it was all in my head, so I soon realized how cold and ignorant some Doctors really were. the next day I could hardly walk, and when I went to my Dr. in our small rural town, he says to me, "Well, since the Dr. in Fresno said there was nothing wrong, I'm not going to fill any more of your medicine for pain." To say the least, I only can describe what happened to me as a long trip to hell and back. I went to a local acupuncturist who helped me get through the worst of the withdrawals. My neck never felt right and my new age Dr. said that I had an "energy block in my neck and that my chi(?) was completely blocked, but he would try to help in any way possible."
Enter 6 months of cold turkey forced on me by a Dr. who lost his license during this time frame because he was deemed "unfit mentally and emotionally" to take care of patients, let alone himself. I then went to the clinic , which had recently opened, and met a P.A. who informed me that my pain was very real. She prescribed me some medicine and indeed it really helped. By then I needed to work again, and my kind boss was there for me once more. Then I decided to give the entrance station a try. It was more than satisfying, it was great meeting people from all over the world, and it was only a seasonal job, so I had time to recoup after working for approximately 6 months. However after my third year started, I noticed my hands were dropping money on the ground. The feeling was so familiar that I asked my Supervisor if I could please take a few days to see my surgeon in San Francisco. This wonderful man, whom I found out was the Orthopedic for the "San Francisco football team", and sat on the sidelines during their home games, was retiring now, but certainly would x-ray my neck and tell me what, if anything, might be wrong. The next thing I know is I hear heavy footsteps that I could tell were in response to my x-rays. He came to my room and I can only describe what he did was that he "slammed two pictures of my neck on his light to read the pictures and went on to tell me I had fractured my neck at least 3 years before and it did not heal right. Now, let me explain that while working at the Entrance Station, I had been tripping and I fell a couple of times, but not enough for me to worry myself. Apparently I should have taken the falls more seriously. They were an indication that my neck was not right. needless to say, he fixed my neck and placed the hardware of that time to keep it from breaking so easily again. he also informed me that I had another disc becoming compressed and that someday in the future I might require more surgery again. I was now 38 , and darn close to 39, and I placed my third request to Social Security Disability and to my surprise they agreed that, yes...I was disabled. it wasn't so much the neck, because I still tried to work a little, but the inability to do what I had always done well. so falling at any age, if your discs are older than they are for your chronically accepted age, than one must realize that something as small as a trip and definitely a fall, can do and will do damage to your weakened spine. my surgeon had to work once on my lumbar spine because I had a disc bulging pretty badly, but what he did was nothing less than amazing. He could tell that my spine was not looking so swift under the microscopic eyes, and he fixed the severe stenosis in my lumbar at level 3/4. I again, thanked God and of course my Dr. for the relief that was almost immediate in my back. Now I am almost 59 and have had 2 hard falls. this last one on the Fourth of July was as stupid as my previous one in the chair, on a tile floor. My husband passed away, and I have no way to really receive the help I need. I should have an MRI, and one has been ordered, but this time I was watching the fireworks, legal and illegal in my husbands Rollater. It was locked, but its larger than mine and a large gust of wind came and it fell off the edge of the sidewalk, and I hit our Las Vegas style rocks for a lawn. This time I screamed, but all the noise was more than anyone could hear, and I laid their for a minute or two, and this time I know that something is wrong. my low back swelled up in L3/4 area, and I feel like an idiot because my neck hurts so badly that I haven't been able to get my x-rays yet. I just want all of you, Drs. included to realize that as we age and I am closer to 60 than ever before, that you can be doing nothing, but something can happen when you are least expecting it....and I'm packing? to move back to California where I spent most of my life...back to an area where I can fish, raise chickens and get food from our local farmers market, but I think I am going to get my x-rays first. good luck to all who are suffering like I am. Falls are easier to occur when you least expect it.
An 82 year old friend falls a lot and is being tested in the hospital. He is diagnosed with high calcium levels in his blood tests. Is there a possible relationship with parathyroids tumor or tumors?
My mother-in-law hardly uses the safety devices we put up . Instead she will use a garbage pail in the bathroom or the back of the toilet or the door knob which she has broken of at least 3 times . We have handrails on every wall and in the shower, there is no place to stand that you can not grab a handrail ! Then she uses the handrail to put her towels on and says she will just move it when she needs to use it to grab. We had to get super firm about that and explain she could not move the towel in time if it was an emergency and she was falling.
Then she was plopping down when she sat down on a chair or in bed. Just backing up and letting go to fall back to sit down, sometimes even knocking the breath out of herself on the bed and falling all the way prone. We were on her for months not to do this and then she ended up breaking her pelvis from just sitting down too hard the Dr. said. Lots of pain and therapy later she is finally more cautious when sitting.