Preventing Falls

If your elder still lives at home or lives in your home, you should pay special attention to making sure that the home is safe. In particular, falls can cause injuries that incapacitate an elder or even lead to death. Falls are the most frequent cause of injury-related death among the elderly. A fall can also result in injuries that prevent an elder from getting around and increase the stress and length of caregiving. About 200,000 hip fractures are due to falls, and less than half of those people return to their prior level of function. Falls lead to a "fear of falling," which just in itself leads to decreased mobility, stiffness and more falls.

Risk Factors in Falling

  1. Age
  2. Inaccurate Perceptions: Hearing loss, vision problems, mental confusion and decreased feeling in feet can all cause the elder to incorrectly sense the situation;
  3. Medications: Some drugs such as vasodilators, sedatives, anti-hypertensives or pain medicine can have side effects that reduce perceptions or cause dizziness;
  4. Physical Conditions: Disorders and chronic conditions such as arthritis or osteoporosis can make walking or standing up difficult;
  5. Memory Loss/Impaired Judgement: People can forget household hazards that they have lived with for years and impaired judgement can cause people to have unrealistic expectations about their abilities;
  6. Prior Falls: Earlier injuries can lead to stiffness, decreased mobility and more falls;
  7. Diminished Control of Body: Weak muscles and joints that won’t fully bend and straighten interfere with balance. Vertigo, hearing disorders and Parkinson’s Disease may also contribute to poor coordination and balance;
  8. Decreased Reaction Time
  9. Environmental Hazards: Unstable or rolling furniture; leaning on a table leaf or sink; poor lighting; and no hand rails can cause falls;
  10. Flooring Problems: Scatter rugs, thick plush carpet, uneven surfaces and bathroom rugs can be trip hazards;
  11. Incontinence
  12. Alcohol Use: Drinking alcohol or taking other drugs can impair judgement and disrupt balance;
  13. Underlying Infection
  14. Footwear: Shoes with slippery bottoms, rubber bottoms or heels greater than 1 inches can cause a person to slip, trip or topple over;
  15. Poorly Maintained Equipment: Make sure all wheelchairs or walking aids are sturdy and in a locked position before getting in or out;
  16. Social Isolation: People who live alone are more likely to fall.

Measures to Decrease the Risk of Falling

  1. Remove Environmental Hazards: Remove rugs and furniture on wheels; decrease clutter;
  2. Proper Footwear: Avoid shoes with slippery or rubber sole; avoid too much cushioning which can change perception; laced shoes are better; consider walking shoes with elastic laces;
  3. Obtain Needed Equipment: Install grab bars, raised toilet seats, toilet seat handrails and stair handrails. Make sure the rails are adjusted to the proper height and comfortable to use;
  4. Be sure to use walking aids and keep the aids close to bed;
  5. Obtain proper flooring;
  6. Have a professional review all drugs to identify any potential interactions and side effects; take as few drugs as possible; avoid having multiple physicians order medications without consultations with each other;
  7. Have regular eye and hearing exams;
  8. Have a daily exercise regimen to keep muscles and joints flexible and moving;
  9. Have lighting without too much glare or shadows; use night lights; keep stairways well-lit; use higher-wattage bulbs;
  10. Store items at a convenient height; move frequently used kitchen items to lower shelves and cabinets; if necessary, use a stepladder with extra-wide treads and easy to grab supports;
  11. Raise dish washers, microwave ovens and clothes dryers a few inches to make it easier to load and unload items;
  12. Repair holes in carpet;
  13. Limit or avoid alcohol use;
  14. Rise slowly after eating or sleeping;
  15. Use non-skid treads on stairs;
  16. Add non-slip mats or appliques in showers and tubs along with handles and a seat for the shower; Add a handheld shower head on a flexible hose; add water-absorbent floor rugs with rubberized non-skid bottoms; install grab bars that are sturdy enough to support your elder’s weight and make sure they are anchored in wall studs;
  17. Obtain bells for pets to prevent them for getting underfoot without your awareness;
  18. Keep nighttime temperatures greater than 65 degrees to prevent joint stiffness and grogginess;
  19. Know how to get up after a fall.

 

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