Top tips to prevent falls among seniors and aging adults
Falls tend to be rather common among seniors, and unfortunately when seniors fall, it can be rather dangerous. Why? Because seniors’ bones are more fragile and therefore likely to break and that can lead to some serious problems (and inconveniences).
Believe it or not, according to the CDC, falls are a leading cause of non fatal and fatal injuries among adults over the age of 65. According to their 2014 study, nearly 30% of seniors fall and close to 3 million of those falls result in a trip to the emergency room.
Older adults are at an increased risk of serious injuries when they fall. The incidence of falls also increases with age. When measured as a rate per 100 person-years, the fall rate increases from 47 among people aged 70-74 up to 121 for those over 80 years old, according to a study by Campbell et al. 1990 as noted by NCBI.
Thankfully, many of these falls are preventable.
Why are falls among seniors so dangerous?
Not only are falls among seniors more common, but when they do occur, they can be more serious. The most common issues are broken hips, wrists and arms. And, sometimes there can be more serious head injuries. This can lead to pain, hospitalizations and lack of mobility.
Of course, it also takes seniors longer to heal, and there are added medical expenses. This leads to long term rehabilitation, impeded mobility and reduced quality of life.
Further, a fall sometimes results in a continued fear of falling leading to reduced physical activity and avoidance of social activities that can lead to depression.
Health care providers (e.g. physicians, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, home care providers) play an important role in prevention. Family members can also play an important role.
Sometimes, it is as simple as asking the person if they have fallen or lost their balance. Half of all older adults that have fallen and gotten hurt have never even had the conversation with their health provider. Seniors often don’t bring this up because they are afraid that this may lead to lower independence. The irony behind this is that if they do fall, then they may lose their mobility and that will result in lower independence.
What are the most common causes of falls for seniors and how do I solve them?
1. Medical side effects.
More than 70% of adults over 55 take at least 1 prescription medication and more than 1/4 of them take 4 or more medications. Some of these medications can actually increase the likelihood of falls.
Here are the 9 types of drug classes that pose the greatest fall risk, according to the NCBI.
- Diuretics that treat water retention
- Narcotics, like opioids, that are used to reduce pain
- Anti-hypertensives that treat blood pressure
- Sedatives to improve sleep
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat swelling
- Beta blockers that are used to manage heart arrhythmias
- Benzodiazepines used for anxiety and psychiatric disorders
- Neuroleptics and anti-psychotics to reduce hallucinations and confusion
Solution: A periodic review of prescriptions can reduce the risk of falling as well as solve or mitigate other issues at the same time.
2. Fall Hazards in the home
Yes, there are many of them, and when you are on the lookout, you’ll notice them all over the place. Take a full inventory of the house to eliminate potential fall hazards.
- Remove the clutter, especially on the floor and around the bed, bathrooms and kitchen.
- Remove cords and wires out of the area, especially walk ways. This may entail attaching wires to walls or base boards or creating outlets in more convenient spots.
- If there are steps, consider ways to avoid the need to traverse them. This may mean moving the bedroom to the main floor level. Or consider getting a lift chair (pending the person’s needs). Also, make sure there are banisters and that they are securely in place.
- Be careful with area rugs as many aging adults may drag their feet rather than lift them, so area rugs may create a tripping hazard. You may want to attach/secure these to the flooring below (e.g. double-sided tape or better yet, eliminate them entirely.
- If there are pets (and pets can be great companions to raise spirits and increase longevity), be sure that their water and food bowls are out of the way (but accessible for the pets). This may mean placing them under a table or hutch or buying a new piece of furniture to store their food.
- Make sure walkways to the house are smooth and cleared. Fix any cracks or uneven steps and make sure there are banisters. Be sure that branches, leaves or snow are removed.
- Make sure there is bright lighting, especially in the stairwells and halls, as well as the bedroom and bathroom. Periodically check the light bulbs to make sure they are working. Make sure they are easy to turn on and off and easy for you or your loved one to reach.
- Assess the floors to make sure they are suitable for you or your loved one. Check heights and transitions between rooms. Be careful with hard surfaces as they may be more likely to cause a fall and if your loved one falls, they may be more likely to break a bone or hurt themselves. Some prefer to switch to a softer surface such as carpet or cork as these have more friction (reduces risk of falls) and provide more cushion if someone falls.
- If you have hardwood floors, consider using non-skid wax. And, of course, make sure spills are wiped up quickly.
- Install grab bars in the shower/tub and if needed around the toilet.
3. Reduced vision
Worsening vision can lead to more falls as it impairs depth perception. Sometimes the field of vision is reduced and/or seniors may not turn their head as much to notice items in their periphery. Reduced vision may also create an imbalance which makes it challenging to navigate and notice changes in walking surfaces.
In addition, bi-focals and tri-focals can make it more challenging to see contrasts in colors and textures, and this becomes more of an issue as we age.
Solutions: Have your loved one’s eyes checked. Make sure the lighting in rooms is bright and replace bulbs as needed, especially as issues are more likely to occur in the evening. Make sure hallways and steps are well lit (especially at the top and bottom of steps). Make sure there are night lights, too.
If your parent or loved one has bifocals or trifocals, consider buying separate pairs of glasses rather than multi-focal lenses. And, of course make sure the prescription is up to date.
12 Daily Tips to prevent falls
- Wear shoes or slippers that have non-slip soles. Avoid wearing socks only as they may cause you to slip.
- Be extra careful if your bathroom floor becomes wet. If your bathroom has handrails, hold onto them when getting up or down. Make sure non-slip strips are in your bathtub.
- If you wear a bathrobe or nightgown, be sure it is short enough to avoid tripping on.
- Don’t leave any clothes, magazines, bags, or other objects lying around on the floor – you might trip over them.
- Place loose electrical cords or telephone wires out of walking areas.
- Before you go to sleep, place your glasses within easy reach. Get out of your bed or chair slowly. Sit up before you stand.
- Sit in higher chairs or chairs with armrests – they’re easier to get in and out of.
- Remove or secure any loose rugs or mats.
- Make sure hallways and staircases are well lit. (If the hallway or staircase in your building is not well lit, call the superintendent.) When walking up or down stairs, hold onto a handrail or use a cane.
- Wipe up any kitchen spills as soon as they happen.
- Place lamps in dark areas. If you walk into a dark area let your eyes first adjust to the dark. Consider adding night lights in halls and bathrooms.
- If you do fall, DON’T PANIC! Try using a stable chair or some other piece of furniture to help you get up. If you cannot get up, try calling out for help. If you can, slide or crawl to the telephone or front door and call for help.
How a home care service can help with fall prevention
Yes, many falls can be prevented and home health services can assist you and your family with this.
- Gait and balance assessment – Our highly skilled professionals can provide a health assessment and make recommendations for you or your loved one’s safety.
- Strength and balance exercises – Our team of physical and occupational therapists can assist you or your loved one to gain strength as well as maintain or regain mobility.
- Medication review – We can be your personal health care advocate and help coordinate and communicate with your physician.
- Vitamin supplements and a better balanced diet – A review of senior’s meals can make a huge difference in people’s health, including fall prevention. A doctor or nutritionist may recommend daily Vitamin D supplements (and a potential co-supplement of calcium) which can improve bone, muscle and nerve health. And, better eating can prevent the onset of many other diseases that become more prevalent as we age.
- Environmental and home safety assessment – We will perform an in-home audit for your home safety and make suggestions that will reduce the chances for falls or accidents.
When it comes to falls, the key is PREVENTION!
These tips should help reduce (and hopefully prevent) falls as you or your loved one continues to age in place. Also, we are happy to help our clients and perform a whole home assessment to provide suggestions and solutions catered to the individual’s needs. Feel free to reach out to us at (212) 307-7107.
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