Dad recently switched medications and started shuffling more than walking. Last week, he tripped on a bedroom rug but landed on the bed. He was shaken but not injured. Yesterday, Mom tiptoed to reach for baking soda in the kitchen cupboard and slipped, bruising her ribs. You worry about your parents’ safety at home and know it’s time to help prevent falls from happening. But what’s the best approach?
Aging increases the risk of stumbling and sustaining injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one out of three Americans age 65 and older falls each year. Roughly 20 percent of falls cause serious injuries including lacerations, broken bones and head injuries. Annually nationwide, at least 250,000 elderly people are hospitalized because of hip fractures, and more than 95 percent of these broken hips originate
from a fall.
Fall-related fractures are more than double for older women than for older men. For the elderly, injuries from a fall often limit mobility and can lead to isolation and depression. A quick stumble can even prove deadly. Weakened balance, vision and physical strength affect an elderly person’s ability to stay on his/her feet, so regular eyesight and overall health exams are essential. Medication reviews by a physician are also crucial, since many elders
fall because of medication side effects or dosage issues.
“Seniors who fall, even if they are not injured, often develop a fear of falling,” said Gregg Balbera, president of Right at Home Nassau Suffolk. “This fear can keep them from enjoying regular activities, which then reduces mobility and physical fitness. With less muscle tone and confidence, a person’s actual risk of falling increases. Falls also limit older adults from living independently, which is something our at-home care providers work hard to preserve for each individual.”
The following home safety tips help protect the elderly:
Common fall hazard: Slippery floor surfaces; towels or slippery rugs on the floor
Prevention: Lay nonslip mats on the floor, and install grab bars in a contrasting color.
Common fall hazard: Poor lighting (especially at night)
Prevention: Ensure a light is within easy reach of the bed, and use night-lights to illuminate the path from the bed to the bathroom.
Common fall hazard: Obstacles and electrical cords across pathways
Prevention: Remove clutter, cords and furnishings, so walking areas are clear.
Common fall hazard: Unstable chairs
Prevention: Use stable, non-wheeled kitchen chairs with armrests to help older adults sit and stand up safely.
Common fall hazard: Carpet with upended edges or uneven, worn seams
Prevention: Tape down upended carpet edges, or replace carpet where needed.
Common fall hazard: Lack of handrail support
Prevention: Install rounded handrails on both sides of the steps; handrails should extend beyond the top and bottom steps.
In addition to protecting older adults from falls inside their home, it is important to note that slips and trips occur more often on the external premises, especially in inclement weather.
Men tend to fall outdoors more than women, and those seniors who are most active fall more often than those with physical frailties. Nearly half of tumbles outdoors are related to walking, particularly on uneven sidewalks or tripping over curbs. More than 70 percent of people who fall outside land on a hard surface such as concrete, asphalt or rocks.
Fortunately, many falls outside can be prevented through proactive measures, including the following:
• Stay aware of uneven terrain and slippery surfaces. Watch for holes, tree roots and ice.
• Check the height of curbs and steps before stepping up on them or down from them. Curbs with inclines or cutaways for bicycles can be misleading.
• Wear correct eyewear when walking. Reading glasses or bifocals can distort the ability to see potential hazards.
If balance is a problem, it is best to use a walker or cane, or hold the hands of caregivers when stepping onto curbs or up steps. To safeguard the outdoor environment around the homes of seniors, install handrails and good lighting on stairs and walkways. Steps and patios need to remain in good shape with no worn-down areas or loose nails. For extra safety and traction, patios and steps can be covered with weatherproof and textured paint.
The Right at Home website (www.rightathome.net) features a monthly blog on fall prevention in the elderly.