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September 7, 2012

Fall Prevention for Seniors: 7 Tips to Keep the Elderly Safe

By Susan May


Whether your loved one is still in their own home, staying with a family member or in a senior living facility, falls happen for any number of reasons. I created the Fall Prevention Program we use here at Sacred Heart Senior Living, and I wanted to share with you some tips on preventing falls. You can use this same information to keep your seniors safe.

 

Why do falls happen?

 

There are a number of factors that could cause seniors to fall and injure themselves. They include:

 

  • a loss of balance
  • side effects of medications
  • impaired vision or mobility
  • environmental hazards

In addition, the fear of falling sometimes causes seniors to limit their activities, which can actually lead to an increased risk of falling.

 

Falls: The #1 Reason for Senior Hospitalizations


The numbers are sobering: according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a senior falls and is admitted to the ER every 18 seconds - with one death attributable to falling every 35 minutes. Many falls can be prevented. But did you know more than a third of adults aged 65 and older fall each year? Or that:

 

  • most falls happen while seniors are doing their daily activities
  • 50% of seniors who fall are discharged to a nursing home instead of their own homes
  • half of all seniors with a hip fracture never regain their pre-fall mobility

7 Tips for Preventing Falls


Most falls are avoidable with a little bit of foresight, planning and caution. Here are seven tips for reducing both the likelihood and severity of falls among the elderly.

 

1. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise!

If it seems like every single list published on the internet these days promotes exercise in some way, there's a good reason: it makes you healthier...and safer. Exercise - even slow, gentle exercises - help improve coordination, balance, mental acuity and strength...leading to fewer falls. Seniors and their family members should discuss with their doctor a suitable (and safe) exercise regimen.

 

2. Keep Environmental Risks in Check

When a new baby arrives, Americans become obsessed with safety around the home (think child gates, outlet covers, and cabinet locks). But you need to keep a home safe for senior occupants as well. Look out for poor lighting, lack of sturdy handrails, loose throw rugs, steep staircases, slippery shower stalls & tubs and excessive clutter. These create otherwise-avoidable risks for seniors. 

 

3. Seeing Clearly Means Safer Seniors

As much as we might want to deny it, our eyesight gets worse as we age. Seniors should undergo annual vision exams to make sure their eyesight isn't starting to give them problems. Some drugs (such as anticholinergics to treat Parkinson's) can cause blurred vision. Dry eyes or excessive tearing can also occur with some conditions. If a new medication is causing visual impairment, contact the physician immediately for alternatives. Sensitivity to contrast becomes more common amongst seniors, making driving during dusk and nighttime more difficult. 

 

4. Fear is the Enemy

Most seniors are well aware of the dangers of falling, and - in some cases - may develop a fear that causes them to limit physical activity. Restricting physical activity, however, leads to muscle weakness, joint stiffness and poor balance - increasing the risks of falling. Seniors should be aware of risks, but should also partake in physical activities that help strengthen the body against injury in the event of a fall. Secure and safe footwear is extremely important. Be sure to buy properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles - seniors will not only be safer, they'll feel safer.

 

5. Sometimes it Takes Teamwork

No one wants to feel helpless...especially seniors. Whether it's standing on a stool to search kitchen cabinets, ignoring the walker for a quick trip to the bathroom or trying to drag a heavy trashcan to the curb, a senior's desire to remain self-sufficient often dissuades them from asking for help...and leads to injuries. While seniors need to become familiar with their limitations and seek assistance when needed, you'll need to assess their risk factors and provide proper equipment to assist them in daily living. Work with their physician to ensure that they are getting appropriate supplements of calcium and vitamin D. Have your loved one screened for osteoporosis and review all current medications. At Sacred Heart Senior Living, we are fortunate to have the services of two Geriatricians that provide this service for our residents. You might want to consider this type of service for an evaluation and coordination of all diagnosis and medications.

 

6. Balancing Act: Beware of Vestibular and Balance Disorders

While 'vestibular' may not be a household word, it should be: up to 35% of adults over the age of 40 have experienced some form of vestibular dysfunction. The vestibular system includes the parts of the inner ear that control balance and eye movement, and disorders - caused by disease, aging or injury - produce vertigo, dizziness, imbalance, hearing and vision changes and even psychological effects. Your family physician can recommend a physical therapy evaluation to address any balance, gait, flexibility, coordination and walking style issues.

 

7. Devices to the Rescue

There are many assistive devices on the market today that reduce the risk of falls, and technological innovations such as integrated lasers are transforming traditional devices like walkers into tools that help overcome specific medical conditions (e.g., Parkinson's disease). Rails, grab bars, raised toilet seats, specialized beds and lift recliners can reduce everyday around-the-house risks. Devices such as hip protectors reduce the likelihood of fractures when chronic falls do occur, and emergency alert pendants or pagers can quickly and easily summon help.

 

Manage the Risk of Falling Among Seniors


Many falls are preventable through exercise, awareness and a willingness to seek assistance - either from family and friends, or with assistive devices.


Have you or a family member ever experienced a fall that could have been prevented?

  
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