Falling can happen at any age, but even more so for those who are older. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of four seniors aged 65 and above fall at least once every year. These falls can be very dangerous – even fatal. This harrowing figure highlights the urgent need to educate seniors and their loved ones on the importance of elderly fall prevention in order to reduce the frequency of falls and increase safety. A handful of the most common causes are found in the home, which means we can’t speak about elderly fall prevention without looking at the living space itself.
Elderly Fall Prevention: Why Are Seniors at Risk?
Unfortunately, aging brings with it a reduction in lower body strength as well as balancing and walking difficulties. These three factors play a major role in increasing the possibility of falling.
Where Do Most Falls Occur in the Home?
Falls usually happen in the bathroom, shower, and any other slippery environment like the kitchen and porch area. However, they can happen anywhere in the home, especially where objects are lying around, where there’s poor lighting and on the stairway.
Most Common Causes of Falls in the Elderly
There are a number of medical conditions that can increase an elderly person’s fall risk, these include:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Joint and muscle disorders
- Spinal cord complications
- Foot pain
Basically, any condition that makes moving around more difficult can lead to an increased risk of falling. Elderly people already struggle with good balance – any complication on top of this difficulty amplifies the problem.
Other factors that increase the falling risk include:
- Wearing poor-fitting shoes or loose clothing that drag on the floor
- Wearing socks and walking on slippery floors
- Moving too quickly from one position to the next (for example from sitting to standing)
- Walking in the dark at night and problems with vision
Vitamin D deficiency, as well as drowsiness and dizziness from some over-the-counter and prescription medications could also pose a risk.
There are also risks scattered around the house that can be major safety hazards. These include wet and uneven floors (such as buckled hardwood floors), loose carpets, throw rugs, unstable furniture, steps, poor lighting, cluttered spaces and even pets. Making use of an aging-in-place specialist is an available option. They are professionals who can offer you advice and guidance on how to remodel your home so that it can be safe to live in.
How to Prevent Falls at Home?
Falls are not only dangerous, but they are also costly, as injuries resulting from falls often require hospitalization. Luckily, there are preventative measures that can be taken to help minimize elderly fall risks. Learning these tips and tricks is necessary for keeping you or your loved one safe.
Elderly Fall Prevention in the Bathroom
Install grab bars in your shower or tub and next to your toilet so you have something to hold onto as you move around. Get slip-resistant rugs to prevent slipping. Use a raised toilet seat. Ensure that your bathroom is well lit with bright lightbulbs and perhaps get a nightlight as well. Finally, you can also make your shower larger and install a plastic seat to minimize standing.
Elderly Fall Prevention in the Kitchen
You need to keep your kitchen as organized as possible. Make sure that the floor is clean without any spilled liquids, food or grease, which can make you slip. Store items like dishes, cooking equipment and cooking ingredients in an area that’s easily accessible.
Elderly Fall Prevention in the Bedroom
Firstly, your bedroom must always be well lit and you should never get up in the dark. Keep your light switch close to your bed (should you need to get up in the middle of the night) and don’t leave things lying on the floor.
Keep your spaces tidy and uncluttered so you can avoid stumbling and tripping over objects like loose extension cords. Use non-slip mats, get rid of unstable furniture along with any objects that have sharp corners (this can cause injury if you fall).
Store things in such a way that they are easy to reach so you don’t need to use a stool or ladder to get to them. Install handrails on your stairway and hallway and place fall mats that are specially designed around your home in places where falls are most likely to occur.
Fall Prevention Exercises
One way seniors can protect themselves from being so vulnerable to falls is through exercising. Besides the health benefits, exercising helps seniors increase and improve balance, strength, coordination, and flexibility, which in turn improves walking and stability. Examples of different exercises and activities seniors can do are walking, Tai Chi, yoga (both Tai Chi and yoga are great exercises because they are simple and painless to do) and swimming. Whatever you do, just get moving!
Health Aides as a Prevention Strategy
Health aides are a form of home health care services that focus primarily on elderly care and assistance. They are an excellent method for elderly fall prevention because they provide supervision and can make sure that fall risks are identified and mitigated. Health aides can assist seniors to move around safely by offering support, help them retrieve items that are too difficult to reach, and even assist them with tasks like bathing, which means that the risk of slipping is greatly reduced. All in all, health aides ensure that there can always be someone around in case a fall does occur and a trip to the doctor can be taken immediately.
Injuries from Falling
Statistics show that falls are the number one cause of injury-related deaths for seniors aged 65 and upwards. At the same time this data was collected, falls were also the number one cause of non-fatal injuries at home. Evidently, elderly people experience the daily risk of suffering serious injuries from falling. Even if you think you don’t have any injuries, it’s essential that you still visit your doctor to make sure, since not all injuries show symptoms. Better to be safe than sorry.
Examples of Injuries
Falling can cause hip, spine, pelvis, leg, ankle, arm and hand fractures. It can cause kidney damage, pressure sores, cuts, as well as head and brain injuries. What’s more, you might have to deal with chronic pain, which is never fun.
Loss of Independence
Falls can rob seniors of their independence and mobility. For example, seniors who are 75 and above are more likely, compared to those aged between 65 and 74, to be admitted to a care facility and stay there for a lengthy period of up to a year or longer. This goes to show that the older people get, the more serious the fall injuries become.
What to Do If You Fall
As difficult as it may be, the most important thing to do is to first and foremost is to remain calm. This is important because panicking can make it harder for you to assess the situation accurately and can lead you to injuring yourself even further.
The second thing you should do is to use your medical alert system if you have one. This is extremely helpful because it allows you to remotely call for help by pushing a button after you’ve fallen and need help getting back up. This is especially handy if you are alone or when no one is close enough to hear you calling.
Because of how beneficial it can be, all senior citizens should get themselves a medical alert system. There are a variety of different systems, but make sure you choose one that has a fall detection or fall prevention feature.
Lastly, if you are unable to get up, do not force yourself. This might do more harm than good. Instead, try to slowly get yourself onto your hands and knees. Grab onto the nearest sturdy object (if there isn’t an object near you, you can simply crawl to one) and use it to slowly push yourself up using your hands until you are sitting on whatever piece of sturdy furniture you could find.
Stay in that seated position until you feel confident enough to stand. As soon as you are up to it, go see a doctor to make sure that there are no injuries.
Remember, Falls Are Preventable
The importance of elderly fall prevention awareness can’t be stressed enough. The high number of falls that occur each year shows that a lot of seniors aren’t well informed about the fall risks in their homes and how to protect themselves. The good news is that falls can be prevented, along with injuries. Your home should be the one place you feel most safe –and you can. The key is to know what the risks are and to put interventions in place to mitigate them.