It's pretty much a given in the fall months that you'll hear senior living community staff talking about the importance of fall prevention. Sure, it's a play on words--but what better time to start thinking about new ways we can keep our loved ones safe in their homes, wherever they may call "home"? According to LongTermCare.gov, one-third (one out of every three) older Americans falls every year. With underlying problems such as osteoporosis, falls can cause devastating injuries like broken hips or shoulders--injuries that may take months to recover from, while some seniors never fully recover from serious hip injuries.
There are a lot of reasons why seniors are more prone to falls in the home:
- Loss of balance and mobility
- Loss of footing traction
- Slowed reflex response
- Poor vision
- Poor home layouts with obstacles
Maintain an exercise program
Exercise isn't just for young folks who want to build muscle or lose weight. Regular exercise is extremely important for the senior population, because it helps to keep bones strong and healthy--that means better balance, and less likelihood of broken bones should a fall occur. Exercise also helps maintain muscle mass, allowing the elderly to exert greater control over their limbs.
Use mobility aids
If a loss of balance is a contributing factor for your loved one, suggest a cane or walker to provide added support. Some seniors don't use mobility aids all the time, but only in situations where there's a greater risk. Navigating an unfamiliar home, for instance, or walking outdoors in wet or snowy conditions can be hazardous for seniors who have lost some balance but can typically mobilize without assistance.
Clean up the clutter
Loose rugs and furniture that sticks out can easily lead to trips and more serious falls. De-clutter the living area, tuck cords safely away and remove or secure any loose rugs. If your loved one uses a walker, the device's wheels can get caught on the edge of a rug that doesn't sit flush against the floor, so flat runners are better choices for adding traction to smooth flooring.
Keep an eye out for mobility issues
Does your loved one hold onto walls or furniture to stabilize herself as she walks by? Does it seem difficult for him to stand up from a seated position? If you notice these signs, your loved one could be developing balance and mobility problems. Staying on top of it, getting physical therapy, and using mobility devices will help prevent falls and keep your aging loved ones safe.
Make minor home modifications
Is your loved one residing in a one-level home? Can the home be modified to provide a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor? If stairs are necessary, install guide rails on both sides for added balance support. Other minor changes, such as increasing the amount of lighting and installing grab bars in bathrooms, can help prevent falls, too.
Check into vision problems
Sometimes, a simple vision checkup is all that's necessary to reduce the risk of falls. If your loved one hasn't had an eye exam in a few years or recently seems to have trouble seeing, have it checked out. New glasses bring things into focus, reducing the number of accidental trips and falls.
While most senior living communities are proactive about fall prevention, it doesn't hurt to take a look around if your elderly loved one resides in a community setting. Even a misplaced power cord can cause a fall if it goes unnoticed, and a second set of eyes is useful to pick up on minor issues that could lead to major problems. Notify the community staff if you notice a piece of carpeting that's wrinkled or torn, which could catch a cane or walker and cause a fall.
Fall prevention is a group effort. Make sure your aging loved one is diligent about turning lights on to navigate dark areas, and re-assess the home every few weeks to pinpoint trouble areas. Vision and mobility problems can crop up out of nowhere, so continuous evaluation is a good idea even if you don't find any problems on your initial assessment.
Have any fall prevention tips? Share them with us in the comments below!