For many older adults, the golden years are a time to explore interests while enjoying family and friends—just at a slower pace.
If you or a loved one is advancing in age, you might be concerned about falls. Simple movements are more challenging in this phase of life. Some people fear they won’t bounce back quickly after taking a tumble.
In recognition of Patient Safety Awareness Week, we’re sharing how you can make your home safer and prevent falls.
Simple lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of falling.
People aged 65 and older are more likely to fall for many reasons, including a decline in vision, strength and sense of balance, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At HopeHealth Visiting Nurse, each of our patients receives a comprehensive fall risk assessment. We look at all of the medical and environmental conditions that influence your risk.
When advising patients on fall prevention, I say to think of four things: your eyes, your ears, your muscles and your feet. Problems with any of those areas can make you lose your balance.
The good news: Simple lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of falling. You can also seek support from home care organizations like HopeHealth.
Here’s a whole-body look at fall prevention.
1. Eyes: Protect your peepers.
Declining eyesight is a common culprit for slip-n-falls. One in three seniors has a form of vision-reducing eye disease like glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration, according to American Family Physician.
In HopeHealth’s Safe Sights Low Vision program, occupational therapists help patients with vision impairments that cannot be corrected by glasses.
Nighttime is especially dangerous for vision-impaired seniors who get up from bed multiple times to use the bathroom. Lighting the pathway and putting lamps within reach are important ways to reduce your risk.
Tip: Use night-lights and bedside lamps to ensure safe travels to the bathroom at night.
2. Ears: Mind your medications.
The organ of balance is located in the inner ear. Since certain medications can make you lose balance, it’s important to review medication safety.
People react to medicines in different ways. Some meds cause side effects of dizziness and sleepiness, while one study linked blood pressure medications to a higher risk for serious injury from falling.
Dangerous interactions are another concern. For example, taking multiple diuretics (water pills) can cause low blood pressure and dizziness.
Some falls happen when people skip medicine. We’ve cared for people who didn’t realize they were taking meds for low blood pressure.
What’s the takeaway from all of this? First and foremost, don’t stop taking your meds!
Instead, ask your doctor or homecare provider to review and explain your medication list. Also, fill your prescriptions at one pharmacy so the pharmacist can flag potential problems.
Tip: Ask your doctor or homecare provider to explain your medications, and use a single pharmacy.
3. Muscles: Safety-proof your bathroom.
If you’ve lost muscle strength or range of motion, take special care in the bathroom—the number-one most hazardous place in the home.
Stopping the slippage is key. Discard scatter rugs, and use a rubber mat with traction grip in the shower and non-slip decals on the tile floor.
Next, take it easy. Many falls are caused by overexertion while showering or toileting (standing up, sitting down or using the toilet). Install grab bars or use a shower chair or toilet with a raised seat.
Tip: Use rubber shower mats, non-slip decals, grab bars and raised toilet seats in the bathroom.
4. Feet: Step more safely.
It might feel comfy, but going barefoot, wearing socks only, or wearing slippers greatly increases your risk for falling at home. To step safely, keep your shoes on or switch into rubber-soled slippers.
Clutter is another hazard. Many falls happen when seniors trip over out-of-place belongings, particularly on the stairs and in hallways. Getting tangled up in oxygen tubing is another common mishap.
To make your home safer, remove objects from the floor and rearrange small furniture so you have plenty of room to walk. Ask a family member, friend or even your home care provider to lend a hand.
Tip: Ask a family member or friend to help declutter your home, paying special attention to the stairs and hallways.
Susan Kelly, PT, MS, COS-C, CHHCM, is a clinical educator and physical therapist for HopeHealth Visiting Nurse.