We all want to protect our family members and keep them safe, secure and independent. Knowing how to protect older adults from falls, a leading cause of injury, is a step toward that goal. Every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every three adults over the age of 65 or older will fall and two million will be treated in the emergency room for a broken hip, brain injury and multiple fractures.
Thankfully, many falls can be prevented. As we age, physical changes and health conditions – and often the medicines we take for these health conditions – make falls more likely. There are many precautions we can take to prevent falls. Often seniors will admit that they are afraid of falling; yet, the simple precautions one can take are quickly forgotten until it is too late. Here is a list of the six most important steps one can take to avoid falls according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Check with your Doctor! Take a list of your medications, prescription as well as over-the-counter medications and supplements, and ask your doctor to review them for side effects and interactions which may increase your risk of falling. If you have fallen before, document what happened, when, where and what time and report this to your physician as well.
- Keep moving! Physical activity such as walking, water aerobics or tai chi – a slow moving, gentle exercise that involves dance-like movements – helps to strengthen balance, coordination and flexibility.
- Wear sensible shoes! Have your feet measured each time you buy shoes since foot sizes do change as we age. High heels, slippers and shoes with slick soles can make you slip, stumble and fall. Walking in stocking feet can do the same so wear shoes that have non-skid soles. Avoid shoes with extra-thick soles and choose lace-up shoes and keep them tied or, if unable to tie laces, select shoes with fabric fasteners. If you are a woman who cannot find shoes wide enough, try men’s shoes.
- Remove home hazards! Take a look around your home, a close look, especially the living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. Remove boxes, newspapers, and electrical cords from walkways. Secure loose rugs with double-faced tape, tacks or a slip-resistant backing – or remove loose rugs, especially scatter rugs, completely from your home. Scatter rugs are a major cause of falls in the home. Repair loose, wooden floorboards and carpeting right away. Store clothing, dishes, food and other necessities within easy reach to avoid using a footstool. Use only non-skid floor wax and nonslip mats in your bathtub and shower.
- Light up your living space! Be sure to keep your home brightly lit to avoid tripping on objects that are hard to see. Use nightlights in your bedroom, bathroom and hallways. Place a lamp next to your bed in the event you get up during the night. Place flashlights in easy to reach places in the event of a power outage. Consider trading old switches for glow-in-the-dark or illuminated switches.
- Use assistive devices! If you are using a cane or a walker to keep you steady, be sure to use them in the home as well as outside of the home. Hand rails should be installed on both sides of the stairways and non-slip treads for bare-wood steps. A raised toilet seat or one with armrests can be extremely helpful and most important; be sure to install grab bars in the shower and/or tub. Replace towel bars next to the commode with a grab bar. Seniors tend to hold onto the towel bar for support and they are not secure enough or safe. Obtain a sturdy, plastic seat for the shower or tub, plus a hand-held shower nozzle for bathing while sitting down for additional safety.
Just taking the time to make your home as safe as possible will help to prevent falls. Be sure to have your vision checked as well and if more help is needed, ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist to improve balance. Falling can cause so many problems so take the time to do whatever you can to prevent falls. Stay well, exercise and be aware of your surroundings and remember “an investment in fall prevention is an investment in your independence” (Mayo Clinic).
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