Falling becomes more common—and deadly—as we age. Reduced balance, weakness, and poor eyesight are all contributing factors to falls, and all are more prevalent among the elderly. When older people fall, they are more likely to break a bone than younger people, and recovery will also take longer. According to statistics, 1 in 5 falls results in serious injuries.
At Park Crescent Health‘s sub-acute rehabilitation unit, we often treat patients who sustained serious injuries from falls. Our goal is to help them recover and get back on their feet as soon as possible, but we would prefer the injuries not happen in the first place!
Elderly people are more at risk of falling, but there are ways to reduce their risk. If you’re worried about your parent or loved one falling, talk with them and their doctor about their risk factors and what you can do to prevent falls.
Falls: Recognize the risk factors
There are often multiple factors that cause falls, and they depend on each person’s individual situation. Here are some common things to look out for:
- Mom or Dad sometimes have episodes of dizziness or lack of balance
- They’re taking certain medications, such as antidepressants, that have a side effect of falling
- They seem to be walking into things more often, or having other vision problems
- You notice they often hold on to the walls, furniture, or another person for support
- They appear to have difficulty getting out of chairs
- Their home is cluttered and messy
- Their home is poorly lit
- They have medical conditions such as osteoporosis, peripheral neuropathy, or low blood pressure
You can separate all of the fall risk factors in your mom or dad’s life into two categories: environmental risks and medical risks.
An environmental risk is anything in your loved one’s home or other surroundings that can cause a fall. These include loose throw rugs, cluttered rooms, icy sidewalks, and the like.
A medical risk is any medical condition that can make falls more likely to happen. These can be balance problems, vision problems, certain medication side effects, or sudden medical episodes such as low blood sugar.
Knowing which types of risks your parent is facing can help you take the proper steps to reduce the chance of a fall.
Falls: Reduce environmental risks
It’s fairly easy to reduce environmental risks in your loved one’s home. If you’ve realized their home is a hazard, there are many simple safety changes you can make. Walk through your loved one’s home with a notepad, and write down anything that may cause a fall. Then work on eliminating those dangers. Here are some examples:
- Make sure all walkways in the home are clear of clutter. Some elderly people tend to hoard things, or they may have trouble with housekeeping. If your loved ones live alone, check on them often to ensure the clutter doesn’t build up. You may want to hire a cleaner to come in periodically and keep things in order.
- Arrange the furniture in a way that keeps high-traffic areas free of obstacles.
- Make sure the rugs don’t move around. If they do, secure them with tacks, double-sided tape, or slip-resistant backing.
- If your mom or dad often use step-stools to reach things in upper cabinets, help them rearrange their kitchen or bedroom for easier access.
- Install grab-bars in the bathroom, next to the toilet and in the tub or shower.
- Place non-slip mats in the bathroom.
- Check that the hand rails on the stairways are sturdy. You might want to install a handrail on the wall side of the staircase, if there is none.
- Make sure the home is well-lit, with night lights in all areas that are used at night.
- Swap out regular light switches for illuminated or glow-in-the-dark ones so your parents can see them at night.
- Store flashlights in easily accessible locations in case of a power outage.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll talk about reducing medical risks and add some general advice on fall prevention.