Falls are one of the leading causes of injuries for older Americans, which is reflected in recent data. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out one in every four Americans age 65 and older falls each year. Additionally, the CDC reports 3 million people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for falls each year, and 800,000 people are hospitalized annually due to fall injuries.
Even a single fall may prove to be fatal. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to reduce the risk of falls.
- Conduct a Home Safety Assessment
Potential fall hazards may be hiding in plain sight in your home. With a home safety assessment, you can quickly address these problems.
A home safety assessment requires you to focus on the following areas:
- Tripping hazards
- Outdoor areas
Additionally, the Alzheimer’s Association provides a free checklist to help seniors identify and address falls and other home safety dangers. Take advantage of this checklist to transform your house into a safe living space.
Modifying your home as you get older is an important step to preventing falls. Most home safety modifications can be done yourself or with the help of someone else. Look at the home safety assessment you did in step one and start with the most fall-prone rooms like your bathroom and kitchen.
Bathroom – Modify your shower and bathtub to make entry and exit safer. Add grab bars, non-slip mats and a shower chair if necessary. You can also install a grab bar near your toilet and put a seat riser on the toilet seat. Walk-in bathtubs can be installed for easy access in and out of the tub.
Kitchen – Make sure appliances are in a convenient place so you can easily reach them. If they aren’t, you may need to hire a contractor to adjust your countertops and cabinets, especially if you’re in a wheelchair. Your microwave may need to be placed on a stand rather than above your oven.
Flooring – Evaluate your existing floors. Consider replacing carpet with hard surfaces to prevent tripping and make navigating with a walker or wheelchair easier. Secure any rugs to the floor or remove them entirely.
Lighting – Use high-wattage bulbs, install night lights in the hallway and bathroom and install under-cabinet lights in the kitchen.
Stairs – Add nonslip treads to bare-wood steps and ensure there are two secure rails on all stairs. If you’re unable to go up and down the stairs, consider getting a stair lift installed by a professional.
When considering home modifications, take a look at where you might have the most trouble inside your home. Modify or eliminate any hazards or things you find difficult such as reaching things in the kitchen or slipping on the bathroom floor.
It’s a good idea to wear a medical alert device or carry a cell phone at all times to ensure you are prepared to call for help if you fall. Provide a family member or friend with a spare house key to ensure a loved one can enter your home quickly in an emergency.
A recent survey showed a multi-faceted foot care program can help reduce the risk of falls by 36 percent, according to My Ageing Parent. Of course, if you want to begin a successful foot care program, you will need the right pair of shoes.
Floppy slippers, high heels, and other footwear might seem safe, but they may cause you to slip and fall. Instead, choose comfortable, sturdy, and correctly fitting shoes with hard, slip-resistant soles, high backs or collars, and a heel height of 1 inch or less. It may also be beneficial to purchase shoes with Velcro fasteners and a wide opening to ensure you can easily put them on and take them off.
Wearing footwear indoors is usually a good idea for seniors, too. Walking barefoot or in socks or tights increases the risk of falling. Comparatively, wearing shoes indoors ensures your feet are fully supported when you walk on any surface.
Don’t forget to perform foot and ankle exercises regularly to increase strength in your lower legs and feet. For example, ankle circles strengthen the lower legs and feet, and they can be done just about anywhere. To perform ankle circles, sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Next, extend your left or right knee and move your ankle in a circle about 20 times. Then, move your ankle in the opposite direction. Finally, repeat the same exercise with your other ankle.
Your eyesight, hearing, and reflexes get worse as you grow older. Meet with your healthcare provider so you can identify any medical conditions or other risk factors which may make you susceptible to falls.
The National Institute of Aging points out many medical conditions may increase your risk of falling. These medical conditions include:
- Heart Disease
- Muscle Weakness
- Foot Problems
- Postural Hypotension (Drop in blood pressure when sitting or standing)
Your healthcare provider can treat one or more of the following medical conditions and can offer recommendations in the following areas to help you avoid falls:
Medications – You may need your medications adjusted or changed if you experience symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, and other intolerable side effects which may lead to falls. Your medical provider may prescribe medication to alleviate these fall-related symptoms when unrelated to your current medications.
Exercise – A physical therapist can help you develop an exercise program so you can stay physically active and keep your joints, tendons, and ligaments flexible.
Eyesight and hearing – Your ophthalmologist can help you get the glasses or contact lenses you need to see clearly. Also, if you require a hearing aid, a hearing specialist can help you find one you can wear comfortably.
Remember, your healthcare provider is happy to answer your medical questions. If you have concerns about falls and other health and safety dangers, let your healthcare provider know so you can address them right away.
Seniors are more susceptible than others to a fall. There is no telling when a fall might happen, and the best way to prevent a fall is to plan as much as possible. Those who prepare for falls are better equipped to minimize their impact or stop them from happening.