Falls in elderly people affect the physical and psychological health of millions of older adults - it’s the leading cause of injury to people over 65 years old. Whilst slips, trips and falls can happen to anyone, they are more likely to occur as we get older due to physical changes, health conditions and medications. The good news is that there are some measures we can take to prevent falls in seniors. We've put together 6 steps to help you and/or your loved one in creating a fall-prevention plan.
1. Make an appointment with your doctor
The first step in creating your fall-prevention plan is visiting your doctor. Make an appointment and try to prepare some information in advance. Some questions you could expect are:
- What medications are you taking?
Certain medications can cause drowsiness, confusion, unsteadiness, dizziness and other side effects that could increase the risk of falls. Examples of this could be sedatives and some types of antidepressants. Before visiting your doctor, make a list of your prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements, or bring them with you to your appointment. Your doctor can review these and may want do discuss changing your medication (if possible) to help prevent future falls.
- Have you fallen before?
People who have fallen in the past 6 months are more likely to fall again. To help your doctor identify specific fall-prevention strategies, be prepared to discuss prior falls. Try to write down the details of prior falls, including when, where and how you fell. Include occasions where you almost fell.
- Do you have health conditions that could cause a fall?
There are various health conditions that could increase your risk of falls, such as certain eye and ear disorders. Your muscle strength, balance and walking style could also contribute. Your doctor is likely to ask questions regarding your health conditions and how comfortable you are when you walk. Some questions your doctor may ask you regarding this are whether you feel dizzy, joint pain, shortness of breath or numbness in your feet and legs when you walk.
During your appointment, your doctor could perform a fall risk assessment and make recommendations to protect you from falling.
2. Remove home hazards
A second step in fall prevention is making your home as fall-proof as possible. Take a good look around your home – your living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and other spaces may be filled with hazards. To make your home safer, consider the following:
- Remove boxes, electrical and phone cords, newspapers and other loose items from walkways.
- Secure loose rugs with double-faced tape or tacks, or remove them from your home.
- Repair loose, wooden floorboards and carpeting right away.
- Immediately clean spilled liquids, grease or food.
- Use nonslip mats in your bathtub or shower. You can also opt to use a bath seat, allowing you to sit while showering.
- Store dishes, food, clothing and other necessities within easy reach.
Don't be afraid to ask for help with making these modifications in your home if needed.
3. Keep your home light and bright
A brightly lit home can be very helpful in preventing falls. If your home is not lit well, you may trip over objects that are hard to see. Make sure you:
- Turn on the lights before going up or down the stairs.
- Place night lights in your bedroom, bathroom and hallways. Many falls happen when seniors get up at night in the dark.
- Make clear paths to light switches, ensure they are easy to find and reach.
4. Wear sensible shoes
Consider changing your footwear as part of your fall-prevention plan. Floppy slippers, shoes with slick soles and high heels aren’t the best choice – they can easily make you slip, stumble and fall. Wear properly fitted, sturdy shoes with non-skid soles. A good, sturdy pair of shoes may also reduce joint pain. The following points can be found in 'safe' shoes:
- Firm heel cups to provide support when walking.
- Laces, buckles or velcro fastenings to hold the foot more firmly.
- Wide and deep toe boxes to allow plenty of room for toe movement and comfort.
- Low, wide heel with rounded edges to provide more contact with the ground and prevents slipping.
- Thin soles with tread to enable your feet to read the underlying surface and prevents slipping.
If you have difficulty finding suitable shoes because of foot problems, ask your podiatrist for assistance.
5. Keep moving
Effective fall prevention doesn’t mean limiting activities – it’s actually better to be more active! Exercise can improve your strength, balance and flexibility. This can mean the difference between recovering from a misstep and experiencing a major fall.
Some gentle exercises that could help improve your strength, balance, coordination and flexibility are:
- Tai Chi (gentle, dance-like movements that can help your balance and mindfulness)
If you avoid physical activity because you’re afraid of falling, talk to your doctor. They may recommend carefully monitored exercise programs or refer you to a physical therapist, so you can follow a custom exercise program based on your individual condition.
6. Use assistive devices
Lastly, it might be a good idea to use some assistance devices for additional support. Some devices you could use are:
- A cane or walker
- Handrails for both sides of stairways
- Raised toilet seat, or armrests
- Grab bars for the shower or tub
- Sturdy shower seat
Some of these helping aids are easily installed and relatively inexpensive, others may require a larger investment or professional help. Depending on the level of support you need, you may be able to use funds in your Home Care Package for some of these modifications and equipment.
Elderly falls are not inevitable as we age. But having a fall-prevention plan is an important step in protecting yourself as much as possible from the short- and long-term effects of falling. Make sure to talk to your doctor about ways to stay safe.