Falling is a major health issue for seniors – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that some 2.8 million people 65 and older in the U.S. receive emergency medical treatment for fall-related injuries each year. And unlike for younger adults, falls can spell serious health consequences for seniors. Indeed, broken hips and serious head injuries are not uncommon results, which can be debilitating and necessitate ongoing rehabilitative care.
In honor of National Falls Prevention Day, we’re highlighting some of the best strategies to help keep your aging loved ones safe and avoid falls.
1. Emphasize Exercise
Perhaps the most important thing an older adult can do to lower their risk of falling is to get regular exercise. Exercise can help improve strength, balance and flexibility, all of which can help a senior avoid falling. It can also help your aging loved one keep their weight in check, which means less pressure on bones and joints, another factor that can affect the likelihood of falls.
Your loved one’s doctor can check to make sure that he or she is healthy enough to start exercising and recommend some activities to start with.
2. Fall-proof Their Home
When it comes to fall prevention, one of the first places to start is by evaluating the person’s surroundings and making modifications where needed. Whether your loved one lives in their own house, with you and your family or in a senior living facility, there are a number of measures you can take to make the home safer.
Some key fall-proofing moves include:
- Ridding the home of tripping hazards like loose rugs, electrical cords, or clutter on the floor
- Having grab bars in the shower and raised toilet seats installed
- Placing no-skid mats in the shower and
- Installing railings along hallways and stairways
- Making sure there is a ramp or other easy access-way to the home’s entrances
- Ensuring there is proper lighting and easily accessible light switches throughout the home
Another important step is to determine whether any medications your loved one takes have side effects or interactions that may raise their odds of falling. Sedatives, tranquilizers and antidepressants are common examples of medications that may affect an older adult’s balance.
Talk to your loved one’s doctor or pharmacist to gauge whether any of the medicines they’re taking (both prescription and over-the-counter) fall under this category, and discuss potential alternatives that don’t carry the same risks.
4. Monitor Vision Health
If an older adult has trouble seeing where they’re going or spotting obstacles in their path, he or she is more likely to suffer a fall.
Older eyes receive less light to the retina, making it tougher to catch these hazards. But while age-related vision issues are to be expected, making sure your loved one is up to date with eye check-ups and that they have the proper corrective eyewear can go a long way toward helping them avoid falls.
If he or she suffers from low vision, consider consulting a low vision eye care specialist about ways to avoid falls.
5. Check for Unhappy Feet
Similar to vision health, having healthy, pain-free feet is another big factor in preventing falls. Aging feet typically have less cushioning and are more likely to swell or have toe deformities due to muscle imbalance. All of these factors can make walking more painful and can mess with a senior’s balance.
A health care professional can recommend toe and foot exercises to help boost range of motion and prevent deformities. Additionally, properly fitted footwear can make falls less likely, and shoe inserts can help keep the foot cushioned to ease any pain your love done may experience while walking.
6. Consider Assistive Devices
If you notice that your elderly loved one seems to walk unsteadily or if he or she needs help getting around, chances are they’ll benefit from an assistive device such as a walker or cane. Make sure that they meet with a doctor, physical therapist or occupational therapist who can help them find the right device for them.
While your loved one may initially resist the idea of using a walker or cane if they’ve never needed one before, these devices can actually help boost their confidence and independence.
A number of risk factors can contribute to whether an older adult will suffer a fall, so the fewer risk factors your aging loved one has, the safer he or she will be. Though common among seniors, falls are not inevitable. Helping your loved one take the proper steps can make a difference in preventing falls and serious injuries and ensuring that their quality of life is the best it can be.