Whether you are a caregiver to an elderly parent, or aging yourself, fall prevention is one of the most important factors to consider as you embark on this phase of life. Falls are the number one cause of disability in the US in people aged 65 and above. It is estimated that over one quarter of elderly people above this age end up falling at home each year. Falls can be debilitating as they can take nearly a year to recover fully. Many serious falls can even cause death. So let us consider some easy tips for preventing falls in elderly persons. Please discuss this fall prevention checklist with all caregivers and your family members as well.
1. Understand your risk factors of falls
As you grow older, many health issues start cropping up which could directly or indirectly lead to falls. Women in general are more prone to fall related problems than men. Osteoporosis can occur due to menopause, improper diet, decrease in physical activity and lack of Vitamin D. Speak to a doctor about your risks and try to implement lifestyle and dietary changes to overcome these issues. Risks for falls in elderly can be divided into the following three categories:
- Behavioral – Inadequate exercise, sedentary lifestyle, alcohol use
- Physical – vision changes or loss, certain medications, balance related problems, muscle weakness, chronic health conditions.
- Environmental – clutter, inadequate lighting, lack of hand rails around the house and outdoors, lack of rails or grab rods in baths.
2. Eat calcium rich foods
One of the easiest ways to prevent poor muscle tone or loss of bone mass is to eat a diet rich in calcium. You can go for natural sources or take a supplement. Your doctor can advise you in this matter. Some natural sources of calcium include tofu, fish, cottage cheese, broccoli, almonds, milk and dairy products. It is also a good idea to take vitamin D with calcium. You can spend some time outdoors in the sun each morning to get vitamin D naturally.
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3. Perform weight bearing exercises
As you grow older, one of the common causes of falls is loss of flexibility and poor muscle strength. You can speak with a doctor about taking up weight training or strength/resistance training. If you are a caregiver to an elderly patient, you could enlist the help of a physical therapist to perform light exercises based on overall health. Swimming and yoga are other great exercises that can improve muscle tone, flexibility and balance. Sign up to a community based Tai Chi program that also increases balance, coordination and overall strength.
4. Get vision problems treated right away
Cataracts and glaucoma can also affect depth perception and could result in falls in elderly people. So get the eyes checked from time to time. Diabetic patients must ensure getting their eyes examined every 2-3 months to prevent serious problems. If you use eye glasses or lenses, keep them up-to-date and clean.
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5. Use color strips on stairs
Elderly people with vision problems often cannot perceive the first and last steps. Use of brightly color strips on the first and last steps can come to their rescue and help indicate change in depth or changes in levels. You can also brightly mark handrails around the house. Keep all areas in the home well illuminated.
6. Assess and eliminate indoor hazards
Statistics show that falls at home are more common than falls in hospitals or outdoors. To eliminate indoor hazards, eliminate clutter and make the environment safe and easily accessible. Remove carpets and rugs that can cause falls and trips. You can also secure the rugs with nonskid tapes or nails. Caregivers may take a walk around the house to observe potential hazards. Watch out and makes changes to following areas:
- Improper or poor lighting
- Hazardous furniture or furniture with sharp corners
- Bumps and level changes
- Stairs with loose boards
- Slippery surfaces in bathrooms
- Loose rugs or bunched up carpets
7. Seek help of an occupational therapist
An occupational therapist is trained to help people make changes in their homes and lifestyle to prevent risk of falls in elderly people. They also help suggest exercises that can strengthen the body, improve flexibility and restore sense of balance. Find an occupational therapist near you.
8. Evaluate all your medications
Many medicines used to treat common age related conditions can also lead to loss of balance, dizziness and falls. These include medicines for treating high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety, and depression, and they can impact sense of balance leading to falls in elderly. Speak to a healthcare provider about the medicines and also note the following:
- Common side effects of all medicines the patient may be taking. Specifically ask the doctor/nurse or pharmacist if the medicines cause lass of balance/falls.
- Have any of the medicines expired? Then throw them away.
- Make sure the patient does not consume alcohol especially when taking medicines.
9. Keep a phone handy
Always make sure that the elderly patient has easy access to a phone. These days, one can also wear an emergency device around the neck. Pressing a button on the device can alert the service provider if one falls or needs help. If there is a land line, make sure it is easily accessible to the elderly patient. Do make sure that all phone extensions are available on all levels of the home along with a list of emergency numbers on speed dial.
10. Make bathroom safer for elderly
Falls in the bathroom are very common but they are also easily preventable. Use the following fall prevention checklist to keep the bathroom surface safe:
- Use non skid mats or rubber sheets in bathrooms and tubs.
- Install walk-in showers or tubs with handrails
- Also install handheld showerheads and keep a seat to sit on in the bath.
- Use step stools to access things that are kept out of reach.
- Stay away from slippery floors which have been recently waxed or polished.
11. Secure the outdoors
- Clean away clutter and debris. Pick up toys, skateboards etc from yards.
- Get uneven surfaces smoothed out.
- Repair and fill up cracks and broken tiles.
- Install ramps where possible. For stairs, add handrails.
- Add lights to yards, driveways and keep all paths around the house well lit.
- In winters, prevent elderly people from going out as far as possible. Keep path shoveled and salted.
We hope these tips for preventing falls in elderly make things a bit safer for the patient and their caregivers.