According to the Centers for Disease Control, one out of every three senior citizens will fall each year and as a result of those falls, two million people will end up landing in the emergency room. Every ten years that pass in a person's life, the risk of falling increases.
There are practical ways to protect an older adult in the home, however. Take a look at these five innovative ways to keep an older adult you love safe from falls.
Physical Health Plays a Key Role
When we think of fall-proofing a home, we commonly think of all the ways to remove hazards and dangerous scenarios. Many people do not immediately think of ways an individual can become safer. Aside from the use of walking aids, here are a few helpful tips to be aware of.
- Keep as active as possible: When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle in later years, there are many health concerns that can make the task of exercising seem daunting. Yet a person does not have to put on leg warmers or a leotard to stay in shape. Something as simple as walking on a regular basis can strengthen legs and fine tune balance. Muscle weakness in the legs is one of the biggest risk factors in falling. With stronger legs and even a little bit better balance, falls can become less likely.
- Stay on top of vision care: With so many doctors' visits and follow ups for an elderly person, making time for routine vision screenings can seem like too much to ask. Caregivers are already juggling a lot; however, when thought of as something that will lower the risk of falling, it is well worth making vision care a priority. When a small rift in the rug or slight changes in floor levels can be detected, the risk for falls decreases. It also may help with taking the right medications, avoiding fatal "cocktails" and overdoses, which brings up the next point.
- Know the Side Effects of Medications: If your loved one is on multiple prescriptions, it is important to know how those medicines interact with each other. Even if they are safe to take at the same time, they can still have side effects such as drowsiness and impaired cognition. Timing such medications for when the elderly person will not be alone can reduce the risk of falling. Also, when a new medication is prescribed, make sure the elderly person is not alone when taking it for the first time.
More than half of all falls occur at home while going about normal daily activity. The once easy tasks that could be completed without giving much thought to them now become challenges filled with risk factors. Mitigating these risk factors as best as possible will help to reduce them. Aside from the common suggestions of eliminating clutter, installing railings and guards where needed, and having adequate lighting, here are a few additional tips.
- Remove Heavy Storage Items: One way that a fall commonly occurs is when your loved one attempts to reorganize or go through some of their old items. Taking the initiative to go through these items with the person and pre-arranging them in totes that are smaller and easier to manipulate will go a long way in preventing an accident. For larger, bulkier items that may be in the basement, schedule a time to be there with the person, or bring up a box at a time and put them in smaller totes and baskets that the elderly person can sort through in his or her own time.
- Take Extra Precautions During Cleaning: Cleaning the home is a chore that must be completed on a regular basis. It may be important for your loved one to retain independence and do this. If so, consider replacing standard mops with smaller pre-wetted scrubbers and other tools that are more practical, such as dusters that extend so the elderly one is not tempted to stand on a chairs or stepladder. If possible, hire a cleaning service to take care of this chore and avoid a common time for slips, trips, and falls.
Everyone knows that once a fall is taken, things change quickly in the care given to an aging loved one. Broken bones take longer to heal, and the common rumor that a broken hip starts a chain reaction isn't too far-fetched. Taking the proper precautions for those in your care will allow them a greater level of independence and dignity for a little while longer and afford you more peace of mind as well.
Centers for Disease Control. (2013). Preventing Falls Among Older Adults. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/Features/OlderAmericans/. Last Visited January 15th, 2016.
National Institutes of Health. Falls and Older Adults: Causes and Risk Factors. NIHSenior Health. Available at http://nihseniorhealth.gov/falls/causesandriskfactors/01.html. Last Visited January 15, 2016.