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Fall Prevention for Caregivers and Seniors

News February 25, 2019 | CanadaOnlineHealth

If you are getting older or are taking care of someone who is aging, falling is one of the most common concerns.  It’s true that even the fear of falling can create unwanted stress and anxiety in someone who is living in a situation where falls may occur.  A fall can lead to a head injury, broken hip, broken ribs, or other tragic injuries.

According to the National Council on Aging ( one in four older Americans falls every year. In fact, falls are the leading cause of nonfatal and fatal injuries in Americans over the age of 65.

Your home should be your safe place, the one place that is should be arranged in such a way that you can easily maneuver around without fear of tripping or injury.   When you leave your home, you should be aware of your environment and the factors that could lead to loss of balance and falling.  Still, over time our homes can become cluttered and hard to manage as we age.  There are several factors to consider that may to falls at home:

Important factors that may lead to falls

The Home Environment:   Clutter, stairs, furniture, these things in the home can lead to trips and falls. Making some changes at home such as rearranging furniture, removing excess furniture, or perhaps moving to a home without stairs can help prevent falls. It’s important to note that outside of the home all sidewalks should be free of snow and ice, loose gravel and uneven surfaces. Some sidewalks and patios can become slippery when they’re wet.  Sign up for a volunteer snow removal service or have someone you know keep sidewalks and outdoor stairs free of snow and ice in the winter.  Make sure to use a cane or walker to help with stability. Good footwear with grips to avoid slipping is also important.

Medication Side Effects:  Some prescription medications and over the counter medications can have some side effects such as dizziness, fatigue, drowsiness, muscle weakness or dehydration.  Speak to your pharmacist about the side effects of the medications you or your loved one are taking.

Physical Balance or Infirmities:  Weakness, impaired mobility, poor balance, lack of coordination and slower reflexes are often part of aging and/or illness.  Speak to your doctor about whether or not a cane, walker, or other physical assistance may be helpful. Your doctor and pharmacist can often serve as a resource helping you locate services in your area for physical therapy for balance, and more.

Impaired Vision:   Poor vision means the possibility of not seeing a foot stool or other obstacle that may be in the way.   This is another reason why making sure the home environment is clutter free, especially removing items on the floor that may cause trips and falls.   In some cases improved lighting can help.

Illness and Chronic Conditions:  According to the NCOA, more than 80% of older adults have at least one chronic condition such as arthritis, stroke, or diabetes.     The chance of falling while living with a chronic condition is increased due to the loss of certain body functions, loss of strength, the use of multiple prescription and non-prescription medications, pain, and inactivity.

What you can do to help someone live a safer lifestyle to prevent falls:

  • Take note if you or your loved one is holding on to counters, walls, or other surfaces for balance as they get around, it is time to discuss the risk of falling.
  • Make an eye appointment to assess any vision needs.
  • Make sure they have appropriate safe footwear.
  • Discuss their health situation and medications they are on, and talk to your pharmacist about any side effects such as dizziness or vertigo.
  • Suggest physical therapy to help improve balance.
  • Make sure they are not wearing pants that are too long or oversized slippers.
  • Encourage them to use a cane or walker or other devices to aid in stability.
  • Encourage changes in the home setting to make life safer and easier.
  • Install safety bars in the shower and tub, as well as a shower chair, non-slip mats in and outside of the tub, and a hand-held shower device.
  • Encourage home care to come in and assist or at least be there while they use the shower.
  • Install rails on stairways.
  • Improve lighting throughout the home, especially near stairs and the path leading to the washroom at night.
  • Make sure they are eating a healthy diet and getting some movement or exercise daily.
  • Encourage discussions about their lifestyle needs with their doctor and/or homecare specialist.

Is it time to move?

There are times when moving to single-level home or apartment may be the safer choice.  Stairs and washrooms and other fixtures in the household may simply be too much to handle safely. This is a discussion for you to have with your loved ones so a well thought out decision can be made before you are at the stage where there is high risk for injury.

By taking time to talk openly about their current living environment and ways to ensure a healthy and safe life, you both have more peace of mind knowing that you have done everything you can to help them live a safer and more independent life.

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