Fall Prevention BEFORE a Fall — How to Talk With Your Parent or Loved One About Mobility Safety
When you were learning to walk, your parents were there to pick you up after every fall. Now that they are getting older, it may be your turn to help them stay on their feet. Falls are the number one cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for Americans over the age of 65. One in three older Americans falls every year, a total of 12 million annually. In fact, every 13 seconds an older person visits the emergency room because of a fall. At NewLeaf Home Medical, we care about keeping your parents safe as much as you do. Learn how to talk with them about fall prevention before they become another statistic.
Why Do Older Adults Fall?
Anyone can fall on a slippery floor or an icy step, but older Americans are particularly prone to falls. As their bodies and minds age, they become more susceptible to fall hazards. A fall may be the result of:
- Diminished Balance: Most people become less mobile as they age. Inactivity can lead to a loss of flexibility, balance and coordination. If you have noticed your loved one holding on to walls or furniture for balance, or if they seem to have difficulty arising from a chair or walking on regular terrain, they should see a physical therapist to discuss how they can improve their strength, gait and balance.
- Failing Vision: Ninety-two percent of seniors wear glasses, and many experience more serious forms of vision loss. Adults over the age of 65 should see their eye doctor annually to test for cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Even with corrective lenses, older people can have difficulty gauging distances, perceiving contrasting edges and spotting obstacles and tripping hazards.
- Health Conditions: Many health conditions common to older Americans can affect their coordination and mobility. Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases can impair mobility, vision and balance. Depression and chronic pain can lead to inactivity. Diabetes, stroke and arthritis can also increase a person’s risk of falling.
- Medication: Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, drowsiness or dehydration. Keep in mind that while some medications are fine on their own, they may have harmful side effects when used in combination with other drugs or supplements.
- Environment: Many older adults are so used to their own homes that it is very easy for them to overlook obvious potential fall hazards. Stairs without a railing, slippery shower and bathroom floors and décor that doubles as a tripping hazard can all lead to a fall.
Why Are Falls Dangerous?
Slipping, tripping or stumbling can be dangerous at any age, but falls are particularly harmful for seniors, whose bodies are more fragile and less capable of healing after an injury. Some falls cause only bruises, but one in five results in a serious injury, such as a broken bone, fractured hip or concussion. In fact, falls are the number one cause of traumatic brain injuries, which can have long-lasting cognitive effects. In addition, falls that lead to fractured bones or broken hips can seriously weaken a person’s body, increasing their chances of falling again.
Falls take an emotional toll as well. After a fall, your loved one may feel less confident in their movements. They may become fearful and less active, which can put them at increased risk of additional falls. They may even begin to experience symptoms of anxiety or depression.
How Can Falls Be Prevented?
The statistics on falls are unnecessarily high, and groups like the National Council on Aging and the National Institutes of Health are working to increase awareness about the dangers of senior falls and the steps that can be taken to prevent them. These steps include:
- Staying Physically Active: Some adults may think that if they just take it easy they will be less likely to fall. On the contrary, staying physically active is the best way to prevent a fall, and to improve the likelihood of a quick recovery vs. a long rehabilitative stay in the hospital if they do fall. Physical activity should include strength training, exercises to maintain flexibility and routines that improve balance. Many communities have special exercise classes specifically designed to reduce a person’s risk of falling. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to ask whether classes like “A Matter of Balance” or “Stepping On” are available in your town.
- Talking to Your Doctor: Encourage your loved one to visit their doctor regularly. He or she can screen for movement disorders, evaluate the risk for falling and make recommendations for staying active. The doctor can also review your parent’s prescriptions and over-the-counter medications and discuss any side effects they might experience.
- Get Hearing and Vision Checked: Both hearing and vision loss can increase a person’s odds of falling. Both should be checked annually. If your loved one wears tint-changing lenses or bifocals, talk with their optometrist about how to use these lenses safely.
Fall Prevention At Home
Most people feel safest in their own home, but familiarity can prevent a person from identifying potential hazards. Unfortunately, more than half of all falls occur in the home. Many of these could be prevented by taking simple steps that support stability and eliminate hazards. Make sure your senior’s home has:
- Safe Flooring: Repair uneven spots in floorboards. Make sure all rugs have a non-slip backing or non-skid pads, or are secured with tacks or double-sided tape.
- Safe Stairs: Repair crumbling or uneven stairs. Install secure rails on both sides of steps.
- Step Stools: Keep frequently used items within reach in kitchens, bathrooms and storage spaces. Purchase a step stool with a balance bar for reaching higher places.
- Sufficient Lighting: Place nightlights in bedrooms, hallways, bathrooms and stairwells. Keep a lamp near the bed. Replace burned-out bulbs. Add lighting to dark spaces.
- Clear Walkways: Make sure there is a clear path through and around each room. Move obstacles and tripping hazards including cords, shoes, toys, newspapers, pet dishes and low visibility furniture and décor.
- Non-Slip Bathrooms: Cover bathroom floors with secure bath mats. Place non-slip strips in bathtubs and showers.
- Visiting Children: Seniors love children. But be sure to coach children before their visit to avoid sudden and unexpected hugs that can lead to an accidental falls.
Many products have been created to specifically assist seniors and support their mobility—Increasing confidence, relieving stress on the body, limiting safety concerns and helping maintain independence. Consider whether your loved one would benefit from the following:
- Mobility Aids: Canes, walkers and rollators can support a person’s balance and increase their confidence, helping them to stay as active as possible. Discuss mobility aids with your loved one’s doctor or physical therapist to ensure they are using the right type of aid and that they are using it correctly.
- Grab Bars and Safety Rails: The bathroom is the most dangerous room in the home. But it is the one room where seniors prefer to maintain their independence the most. Grab bars and safety rails can be installed in showers and bathtubs to provide stability when stepping in and out. They can also be useful next to toilets, where they can steady the user as they sit and stand.
- Shower Chairs: Some older seniors have difficulty standing for long periods in the shower. Getting into and rising from a bathtub may also be a challenge. Shower chairs, hand-held showerheads and motorized bath lifts that raise the user in and out of the water can be great options for these individuals.
- Commodes and Toilet Frames: Many toilet seats are too low for an older person to use comfortably. Handles and a raised seat make it easier to get up and down.
How Can I Talk to My Parents or Loved One About Fall Prevention?
Now that you know why fall prevention is so important, as well as what can be done about it, it’s time to broach the subject with your loved one. Talking with seniors about their risk of falling can be challenging. They may feel like falling is something that happens to “other people,” and that because they haven’t fallen yet, they don’t have to worry about it. Here are a few tips for introducing this sensitive subject:
- Begin by reminding them how much you love them. Let them know that you understand how much they value their independence, and that you want to do everything you can to help them maintain it.
- Show them the statistics on falls. They may be surprised to learn just how common falls are, and how serious the consequences (hospital and/or rehabilitation stay, lingering pain or side affects) can be.
- Tell them about someone you know who has had a fall, or ask if any of their friends have fallen. Talk about how the fall has impacted the person’s health, mobility and independence.
- Share the methods listed for fall prevention. Discuss which might be necessary for them.
- Offer to take your parent in for their regular eye exam, or to accompany them to their doctor to assess their health and discuss their risk of a fall.
- Tell them about fall prevention programs in the community. Offer transportation if they need it.
- Offer to make any necessary modifications to their home. This might include fixing steps, installing railings and grab bars, improving lighting, buying non-slip rugs or rearranging furniture.
- Remind them that you are there to help them whenever they may need it.
Even older adults who are resistant to discussing their health can appreciate the concerns of a loving child. They may have worried about their risk of a fall in secret, but avoided discussing it with their doctor or their family because they don’t want to admit that they are aging, or they worry that their family will limit their freedom. When they understand that you are eager to help them maintain their independence, they will likely appreciate your offer of help and become more proactive in protecting themselves. At NewLeaf Home Medical, we are happy to be a part of your senior’s safety team.
© NewLeaf Health 2016