Preventing Falls Among Seniors

If you have an aging senior in your family, you probably know that one of the most worrisome risks to their health and safety is a fall. Seniors may fall down for many reasons—and while most falls do not result in a serious injury, many cause bruises and a single bad fall can cause broken bones or even death. Preventing your loved one from falls must be high on your list of concerns, and prompt you to take all the precautionary measures you can.

Falls among seniors can happen anytime and anywhere—simply walking around at home, getting into a car, in a restaurant, and even at night when getting out of bed to go to the bathroom. Falling is less a function of age than of your loved one’s physical condition, strength, vision, sense of balance, and type of medications taken. A 78 year-old taking many medications can be more at risk for falls than an 86 year old in generally good health. Medications may impair a senior’s sense of balance or reduce blood pressure and cause dizziness. Seniors who have or are developing osteoporosis have lost bone mass, which makes them weaker and more vulnerable to falling. Seniors with poor vision may trip over rugs, shoes, stairs, curbs, table legs, and other objects they fail to see.

One of the most common results of bad falls are hip fractures. About 90% of all hip fractures occur in people over 60. Repairing a hip fracture requires surgery, sometimes even a hip replacement, followed by intensive rehabilitation therapy to enable the senior to regain mobility. Other types of falls can result in broken wrists, elbows, noses, and toes—all of which are equally painful and can reduce the senior’s quality of life for months until healed.

Unfortunately, many older adults do not receive the help they need preventing falls because they are reluctant to report them. This may be due to concerns about possible loss of independence or the need to leave their own home and move in with others or even into a nursing home. While most falls do not result in a serious injury, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in adults over age 65. Falls can be a big danger to an older adult, regardless of their overall health, and can occur anywhere—in an independent living situation, at assisted living, even in the hospital.

Preventing falls

As a family member or caregiver for a senior, you can do a lot to create a fall-free environment. One of the most important preventative measures you can take is to know the medications your loved one takes, what the side effects are, and whether there any interactions among them. If they can cause low blood pressure, dizziness, loss of vision, balance problems, or cognitive impairment, you must begin paying attention to how your loved one reacts after taking the medication and to any changes in their mobility from week to week.

Secondly, be sure that your home is safe and free from items that can be tripped over. Rearrange furniture to be sure walkways are uncluttered. Remove area rugs that are not non-skid or have curled edges that can pose a tripping hazard. Use non-skid floor wax. Make sure your loved one can enter and exit the shower easily, or install grab rails to help them have a grip. Clean shower and bathtub floors to ensure they are no slippery. In the kitchen, make sure glasses and dishes are easy to reach. Put away the step stool to prevent your loved one from using it on their own. Be sure your house is well-lit and light switches are easy to reach. Install extra lighting on staircases or dark hallways if necessary.

Third, when you take your loved one out of the home, take necessary precautions to support them when they walk even if they insist “I can do just fine on my own.” Help them notice potential tripping dangers like tree roots and curbs, even if they seem obvious to you. Be sure the walkways and driveway around your home don’t have potholes or bumps that can cause tripping. Clean away debris and fallen leaves from walkways. Of course, avoid snow and ice covered sidewalks and parking lots in winter. Don’t let them do chores around the house such as climbing ladders, cleaning gutters, or raking leaves without someone else present.

While you may think that all these precautions are just common sense, it’s astonishing how many seniors fall because one of these recommendations has not been followed. All it takes is a single fall to change the happy and long life you want to enjoy with your aging parent or relative at home.