November is fall prevention month. While anyone can lose their balance, as we get older we’re more likely to suffer serious injuries from a fall. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), falls are the number one cause of injury and death from injury among the elderly. Across the country, a senior falls every second, every day. Luckily, there are many ways we can prevent these falls.
- Tread Carefully Outdoors
Fall prevention is particularly important outside, and although you can’t control the weather or condition of other people’s property, you can wear stable, flat footwear, use handrails on stairs, and avoid hazards like uneven pavement and curbs. In northern climates avoid walking on ice whenever possible. Canes can be equipped with ice picks for extra stability if a walk on an icy sidewalk or parking lot can’t be avoided. Seniors with limited or impaired vision need to be particularly careful.
Anyone who is weak, dizzy, has limited vision, or is otherwise at risk of a fall should use assistive walking devices like a cane or walker and wear an alert bracelet or necklace to alert a caregiver or medical responder should a fall occur.
- Make Your Home a Safe Place
Indoors, falls are more likely on the stairs and in the bathroom. The stairs should have handrails on both sides. Keep them free of clutter and ensure they are always well-lit. Many elders choose to move into homes with minimal stairs or elevators. Alternatively, if possible, you can arrange to have your parent’s bedroom and personal items moved to the main floor of your home, so they rarely have to use the stairs.
The bathroom is a particularly dangerous spot for those with osteoporosis, where the hard surfaces make bone fractures and breaks more likely. It’s important to have several hand rails installed for the toilet, bath, and shower. Using a non-slip mat in the tub is essential, as is using a bath mat outside of the tub. We sometimes forget that the tile on the bathroom floor is liable to get just as slippery as the actual tub. Installing a chair in the shower or bathtub is a great option, as elders will be more stable while sitting than standing.
- Consider Your Medication
Medication is a contributing factor to falling risks that many caregivers don’t consider. The side-effects of an elderly person’s medication may make them more likely to fall. It’s important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the effects of these medications. For example, if you’re on anti-depressants you may need to watch out for sudden drops in blood pressure, which could make you feel weak. Other medications cause dizziness. Talk to your doctor about the risk of falling, and whether there are alternative medications with fewer side effects.
- Keep Moving!
Don’t let a fear of falling stop you from enjoying your daily activities. It’s important to keep active, not just for quality of life but also to maintain strength, co-ordination, and balance —all of which make falls less likely (and if they do happen, less serious). Elders who have gone through periods of inactivity or who are worried about their mobility skills can regain their strength and balance with the help of a physiotherapist.
Whether you’re at risk of a fall, or are caring for someone who is, fall prevention month is the perfect time to put precautions in place to help prevent and avoid a serious fall. Looking for more fall prevention information? Check out the Aging Life Network’s audio interview with physical therapist Janet Popp.