Anyone with elderly parents worries about them falling and injuring themselves. The consequences of a fall can be devastating, even resulting in death.
So, how to help keep an elderly person from falling? The top 6 things you can do to prevent falls are:
- Be aware of medication side effects.
- Understand that some diseases such as Parkinsons carry a high risk factor for falling.
- Make sure the clothing and shoes the elderly person wears does not contribute to a possible fall.
- Get rid of clutter, which is a major contributor to falls, especially if vision is a problem.
- Use safety devices throughout the house.
- Add fall prevention exercises to the daily routine
Research has identified many conditions that contribute to falling. These are called risk factors. Many risk factors can be changed or modified to help prevent falls. They include:
- Lower body weakness
- Vitamin D deficiency (that is, not enough vitamin D in your system)
- Difficulties with walking and balance
- Use of medicines, such as tranquilizers, sedatives, or antidepressants. Even some over-the-counter medicines can affect balance and how steady you are on your feet.
- Vision problems
- Foot pain or poor footwear
- Home hazards or dangers such as
- broken or uneven steps, and
- throw rugs or clutter that can be tripped over.
Most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling. – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Knowing what your senior loved one’s condition is and what problems he/she is having will help you to be pro-active in doing all that you can do to make falls as preventable as possible.
Be Aware Of Medication Side Effects
The list of medications and supplements that an older person takes can in fact contribute to their risk of falling.
The best thing to do is to consult with your doctor by bringing them the list of meds (and any supplements) so that they can alert you to the fall risk potential of what they are taking.
The solution may be as simple as not standing up for 30 minutes after taking a specific medicine.
High Risk Illnesses
If your elderly parent is dealing from Parkinsons or has suffered a stroke – then their risk of falling is very high.
Another common illness among seniors is COPD which increases your fall risk because of the low levels of oxygen in the blood due to the disease.
Usually, in these instances, all precautions must be taken 100% of the time. Which means that they should not be mobile without someone by their side and I personally would recommend to include the use of an assistive device such as a walker or a cane of some type.
Clothing and Shoes
Yes, it may sound silly, but the clothing an elderly adult wears, including their shoes, can bring on a fall quite easily.
- Loose clothing that may get entangled must be avoided (scarves, long sweaters, etc.).
- Loose shoes like slippers are also to be avoided as well.
- And the number one safety tip I can give you about clothing is ALWAYS WEAR SHOES or at the very least – wear grip socks.
When I was practicing OT – I treated literally hundreds of patients who had suffered either a broken bone or a severe head injury simply because they were walking around their home without shoes and only wearing socks or stockings!
They slipped and fell and that was that. Surgery, months of rehab (if they could even get to Rehab) and then many more months of home health. A good percentage of those elderly adults never returned to independent living.
Organize The Home And Remove Clutter
It’s been my experience (not just with patients but with family as well) that seniors tend to have too many items in their homes and often have furniture that is too large for the spaces they are in.
Both of these tendencies lead to a decreased amount of space for walking which leads to an increased risk for falling.
This becomes even more of a problem if your senior loved one is walking using a cane, quad cane or walker.
As difficult as it may be, my tip to you is to work with your elderly parent or loved one to declutter the living spaces as much as possible. In the long run, the loss of a few items in the house is worth it to keep them safer and healthier.
Another factor involving organization is the placement of items used daily.
Keeping these items at easy reach is an often overlooked tip on minimizing fall risks. And I’m not talking about just keeping the remote control near the recliner.
Following are some tips on how organizing can help to reduce fall risks:
- Keep kitchen items like glasses, dishes, pots and pans, etc. within easy reach so that the elderly person does not have to reach over the height of their shoulder or under reach below the height of their hip.
- Keep items in the closet within easy reach as well. Lower hanging racks if needed. Removing excess clothing is extremely important. A closet organizer system like the John Louis Home from Amazon pictured here can be customized to fit the height and needs of your senior loved one and their closet.
- Any items on a bedside nightstand should be easily accessible. Falls often occur when someone is over reaching or twisting to reach for something from the bed.
- The use of Alexa or Google Home to turn on and off lights is helpful as well. I know my 98 year old mother-in-law loves her Alexa. She doesn’t have to let go of her walker to turn on the light when she enters a room, she just asks Alexa to do it. She doesn’t have to reach up towards the light from her bed to turn it off, she just asks Alexa to do it.
- Declutter the spaces in the home. Removing obstacles that anyone can trip over or bump into is extremely important.
- Removing rugs is also a very easy thing to do (although in my experience, most elderly seem to keep a large collection of rugs scattered throughout the home and removing them can trigger an argument!).
- “Keep flashlights throughout your home in case there is ever a power outage, but keep the batteries in a zip lock bag near the flashlight. Keeping the batteries out of the flashlight when not in use will prevent any corrosion from occurring.” – 1stclassmed.com
Use Safety Devices
Grab bars and handrails are not just for bathrooms. Use them throughout the house as needed. In the kitchen, into and out of the front door, in the bedroom, by the recliner, down the hallway, etc. Read About The Different Types Of Grab Bars Available
Raised toilet seats, shower chairs and transfer benches are more tools that you can use to help minimize your parent’s fall risk. Read About The Different Types Of Toilet Seats Available.
Lights are a device most seniors and caregivers don’t think about adding to the home. And they can be such an inexpensive and easy way to make it safer, for everyone.
You can use plug in lights or battery powered lights. I like to use a combination of both because there can never be too many lights! Place them everywhere, but especially in those areas that are used at night time. For example, the path from the bed to the bathroom, the pathway to and from the kitchen, etc.
If the fall risk for your senior loved one is high and they get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom I would recommend the use of a bedside commode. I know it may be met with some resistance and if it is then I would recommend a bed alarm so that at least someone else in the household can be alerted that they are getting up from the bed.
A medical alert system of course is a very important device. It’s not just for use in case they do fall, it can be used if they aren’t feeling well, if there’s a fire or other emergency. We recommend the LifeFone system which is inexpensive and has no monthly contract.
Add Fall Prevention Exercises To The Daily Routine
As we age, we lose muscle mass. In fact, according to a review of prevalence and intervention by Cruz-Jentoft, et. al., as many as 1 in 3 elderly adults have sarcopenia, which is defined as the decline of skeletal muscle tissue with age.
In another study done by Watson, it was reported that “Beginning as early as the 4th decade of life, evidence suggests that skeletal muscle mass and skeletal muscle strength decline in a linear fashion, with up to 50% of mass being lost by the 8th decade of life . Given that muscle mass accounts for up to 60% of body mass, pathological changes to this important metabolically active tissue can have profound consequences on the older adult.”
So, how can we reverse – or at least delay – the affects of sarcopenia and the loss of muscle mass? Fall prevention exercises, of course! These exercises can be done at home (no gym needed) and they will help reduce your senior’s fall risk by strengthening the core muscles that keep them balanced.
Remember that starting exercises will always be challenging at the beginning, but the person will gain strength and improve over time.
I think it’s easier when you can visualize what to do, so here is a video of the Top 10 Balance Exercises For Seniors At Home from the “Famous” Physical Therapists, Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck.
Safety First While Exercising!
No matter what, safety should be your first priority, so we want seniors to be very careful while doing these exercises.
To that end, we recommend that you have someone standing by to help support them, at least the first few times they do these exercises. This person should stand close by and be ready to help if the senior becomes tired or wobbly.
Additionally, the older adult should sit and take a break between doing these exercises or if they start to feel tired or unsteady. They also should stop and not continue the exercise if they feel pain.
If the senior is frail, we recommend that you always use a gait belt for extra safety.
Consequences Of Falls In The Elderly
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.
- Each year at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures.
- More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling, usually by falling sideways.
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
“As we age, the risk of falling increases and becomes increasingly perilous. A fall can be a real health setback for a frail, elderly person. And, more older adults are dying from falls today than 20 years ago. A recent study showed that more than 25,000 U.S. adults age 75 or above died from a fall in 2016, up from more than 8,600 deaths in 2000, and the rate of fatal falls for this age group roughly doubled.” – NPR.org published July 14, 2019
Of course, the question really is are there more older adults falling or are there just more older adults in general? After all, there are 10,000 people turning 65 every day in the United States.
Fall prevention basically boils down to being proactive which will help you to avoid being one of these statistics.
Follow the top 5 things to do that I listed at the beginning of this article and you should be well on your way to increasing your chances of avoiding falling and injuring yourself.
How do falls affect the elderly? – According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA) – “Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.” They list many other statistics but knowing that falls are the Number 1 reason seniors suffer traumatic injuries is enough to understand the importance of fall prevention.
What is the most common cause of falls in the elderly? – Per Healthdirect.gov.au, the most common reasons for accidental falls amongst elders are:
- floors that are wet or recently polished
- poor lighting
- loose rugs or carpets
- over reaching for objects in upper or lower cabinets
Where do most falls occur for the elderly? – Fall Prevention Center of Excellence reports that 55% of injuries related to falls in seniors occurred inside the house. Of those numbers, 10% fell in hallways, 13% fell in bathrooms, 19% fell in kitchens, 30% fell in bedrooms and 31% fell in their living rooms.
Read our article on Safe Carpeting For Seniors – it will give you some information on the kind of carpeting that is recommended for any home that an elderly person is living in.
Another article that will help you with tips on how to minimize fall risks is for seniors living in two story houses.
If the main issue is to help your senior loved one from falling out of bed, here are some great tips and products to help you do just that.