Are you interested in some scary statistics? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-fourth of Americans aged 65+ falls each year. Falls have also resulted in more than 3 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 850,000 hospitalizations and more than 29,000 deaths. Falls threaten the safety and independence for older Americans and can create a heavy economic and personal burden.
I’ve worked with older adults for most of my career and I’ve seen the devastation that a fall can cause. For many people, a fall is the event that marks the beginning of the long-term care journey. Hip fractures are the most common fall-related injury, and they’re one of the top reasons why a person must move from their home to an assisted living or long-term care facility.
What causes falls? There are often many factors involved including a person’s health. Personal risk factors include:
Changes in strength, balance and mobility
Low blood sugar
Poor nutrition or dehydration
There’s a lot you can do to lower your risk. Engaging in physical activity every day is your best defense. Staying active will help improve your balance and keep you strong. Take a short walk or try Tai Chi. Eat a well-balanced diet, get regular medical check-ups, and have your vision and hearing tested each year. Wear your glasses and hearing aids if you have them and use your walker or cane if you need one. Review all your medications with a pharmacist and ask if any of them can make you dizzy or drowsy.
Environmental factors can also increase fall risk. The bathroom and stairs are particularly dangerous. Take a good look around your entire home and be aware of hazards including poor lighting, slippery or uneven floors, and clutter.
The good news is that most falls can be prevented. If you’re a caregiver, you have the power to reduce your loved one’s risk of falling, and your own fall risk as well. You can be a partner and a participant in falls prevention.
Here are fifteen simple things you can do to make your home safe:
Use a rubber mat in the bath and shower.
Install grab bars by the toilet and bath.
Use a raised toilet seat and bath seat if you need them.
Store kitchen supplies in easy-to-reach locations.
Remove throw rugs.
Keep pathways clear and free of clutter.
Tape electrical cords to the baseboard so they are out of the way.
Wipe up spills immediately.
Keep stairs clear.
Fix or install new handrails.
Have good lighting throughout the house and use nightlights in hallways.
Make sure your exterior entrance is well lit.
Store frequently used objects where they can be reached.
Wear non-slip shoes or slippers in the house.
If something is out of reach or requires a step stool, ask someone else to get it for you.
How can you prevent a fall when you leave your house? Don’t be in a hurry! Rushing increases your chances of having a fall so leave lots of time to get to where you are going. Wear proper footwear for the weather and conditions. Lots of ice or snow? Decide if you really must leave the house. Use mobility aids if you need them and don’t try to carry too many bags that can throw you off balance.
If you’re looking after an older relative who may be at risk of falls, I have two good resources for you.
One is the National Council on Aging’s Falls Prevention Conversation Guide. Use it if you or the person you are caring for has had a fall, is experiencing decreased mobility, is unsteady on their feet, or is fearful of falling. Use it to talk with other members of your family or health care professionals about creating a falls prevention action plan.
The second is Truhlsen Elder Care Law’s Fall Prevention brochure. It’s a quick read filled with information and tips that can help keep you and your loved ones safe.
Fall prevention starts with you. Take steps today to reduce the risk and stay on your feet!