How Seniors Can Prevent Falls at Home
Did you know that one in four older Americans falls every year? Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65+. Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. And even falls without a major injury can cause an older adult to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active. If you have an aging parent, grandparent, or neighbor in your life, helping them reduce their risk of falling is a great way to help them stay healthy and independent for as long as possible.
The good news about falls is that most of them can be prevented. The key is to know where to look. Here are some common factors that can lead to a fall:
- Balance and gait: As we age, most of us lose some coordination, flexibility, and balance— primarily through inactivity, making it easier to fall.
- Vision: In the aging eye, less light reaches the retina—making contrasting edges, tripping hazards, and obstacles harder to see.
- Medications: Some prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, dehydration, or interactions with each other that can lead to a fall.
- Environment: Most seniors have lived in their homes for a long time and have never thought about simple modifications that might keep it safer as they age.
- Chronic conditions: More than 80% of older adults have at least one chronic condition like diabetes, stroke, or arthritis. Often, these increase the risk of falling because they result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain, or multiple medications.
Fall Prevention: Why Older Adults Fall & What to Do
To be honest, people don’t usually ask me this.
Instead, they want to know things like “How do I keep my mother from falling?” or “What should I do? My grandfather’s been falling.”
After all, falls are a scary thing. Most people know that falls are dangerous for older adults.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that one in five falls causes a serious injury such as a broken bone or head injury. Fear of falling can also seriously affect an aging adult’s quality of life and sadly, can keep a person from being active and thriving.
So, many older adults and family caregivers are interested in fall prevention because the risks are so great. And the good news is that although it’s not possible to prevent all falls, it almost always IS possible to take actions that will reduce the chance of a bad fall.
If you want to learn more, you’re in the right place.
In this post, I’ll cover:
How understanding why aging adults fall can help you keep an older parent — or yourself — safer,
Why personalized fall prevention plans work better than relying on general fall prevention tips,
The four-step process I use to help older adults prevent falls,
A practical example showing you how to use these steps to avoid falls yourself.
What are some causes of falls?
The normal changes of aging, like poor eyesight or poor hearing, can make you more likely to fall. Illnesses and physical conditions can affect your strength and balance. Poor lighting or throw rugs in your home can make you more likely to trip or slip.
The side effects of some medicines can upset your balance and make you fall. Medicines for depression, sleep problems and high blood pressure often cause falls. Some medicines for diabetes and heart conditions can also make you unsteady on your feet.
You may be more likely to fall if you are taking four or more medicines. You are also likely to fall if you have changed your medicine within the past two weeks.
What are some of the interventions you’ve used that can help seniors?
You can do so many things. First of all, I tell everybody you’ve got to do some balance training. Tai chi is probably the best exercise to prevent falls, but whatever works for you. And, interestingly, just walking does not reduce your risk of falling. So a lot of doctors will say, “Just get out and walk 20 minutes every day, and that’ll keep you safe. That’ll help you stay healthy.” Walking is great for your heart; it’s great for your brain; it’s great for lots of it. But in order to really reduce your risk for falls, you’ve got to do something specific to balance.
Enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe.
Ask your older loved one if they’re concerned about falling. Many seniors recognize that falling is a risk, but they believe it won’t happen to them or they won’t get hurt—even if they’ve already fallen in the past. If they’re concerned about falling, dizziness, or balance, suggest that they discuss it with their health care provider who can assess their risk and suggest programs or services that could help.
Discuss their current health conditions.
Find out if your older loved one is experiencing any problems with managing their own health. Are they having trouble remembering to take their medications—or are they experiencing side effects? Is it getting more difficult for them to do things they used to do easily? Also make sure they’re taking advantage of all the preventive benefits now offered under Medicare, such as the Annual Wellness visit. Encourage them to speak openly with their health care provider about all of their concerns.
Here are some ways to help prevent falls for your older loved ones:
Make sure to Clean up clutter.
The easiest way to prevent falls is to keep your home neat and tidy. Remove all clutter, such as stacks of old newspapers and magazines, especially from hallways and staircases.
Avoid loose clothing.
You want to feel comfortable at home, but very baggy clothes can sometimes make you more likely to fall. Opt for better-fitting and properly hemmed clothing that doesn’t bunch up or drag on the ground.
Install safety devices.
Bathrooms can be dangerous when wet. A simple non-slip mat can create a more accessible surface for our feet to grip. Grab bars and handrails should also be considered in high-risk areas.
Check your eyes.
Like everything else, our eyesight changes with aging. Because other health issues can seem more pressing, it is easy for seniors to overlook an annual eye exam. Good eyesight is essential for maintaining balance.
Use an assistance device.
You might not want to use a walker, but it beats not being able to get around independently. Find one that works for your lifestyle and situation if you need a device.
Even with reasonable preventive measures, accidents can happen. If you are living at home alone or your partner can’t get to you quickly in an emergency, consider how you will be able to call 911 if you fall. Keeping a phone in your pocket or wearing an alarm device can be lifesaving.
If you fall, you will likely need to work with an orthopedic doctor and possibly a physical therapist. Together, they can help treat the injury and help you restore mobility.