Are you caring for elderly parents? If so, did you know the number one reason for injuries among older Americans is falling? It also accounts for the leading cause of injury deaths, with roughly a third of America’s seniors falling at least once each year.
When a senior citizen has fallen once, it becomes a strong risk factor for falling again. Women experience fractures from falls twice as much as men, but men are more likely to die from falling than a woman. Falls are the reason for most fractures in seniors and can result in a severe injury, like a hip fracture. Falls are also the most common reason for Traumatic Brain Injury, which can lead to another fatal fall.
If you’re caring for an elderly parent and this sounds rather scary, take heart, because there is good news. Falling is not inevitable just because a parent is aging, and there are simple precautions you can take to lower the risk of falling in your home.
Start with the bathroom, because that’s the room in which more falls happen than anywhere else in the house. You may want to consider installing some grab bars, not just in the bathroom, but also in other places in the home where they may help.
Make sure showers and sink faucets are not dripping and posing a threat of slippery floors. It may be wise to place non-slip strips in your tub or shower or a rubber mat to reduce the risk of falling while bathing. If space allows, your parent might enjoy the comfort of a shower bench or chair.
If you use rugs, make sure they’re non-skid, or secure them to the floor by attaching double-sided tape underneath.
Part of caring for an elderly parent includes making sure there is a clear pathway throughout the house, so they have plenty of space to walk without the risk of tripping over electrical cords, phone charger cords or other hazards at floor level, like pet bowls or children’s toys.
One easy way to lower the risk of falls in your home is to make sure it’s well-lit. As people age, their eyesight diminishes, so be sure to have sufficient lighting in entryways, outdoor walkways, every room, and if you have stairs, especially there!
Be especially careful if you have stairs in your home. That’s probably the most dangerous place in your house for your elderly parent. Insist they use handrails and make sure they aren’t using both hands trying to carry things up or down the stairs. They need at least one hand free to hold the handrail, giving them support and helping them maintain their balance.
Check frequently to be sure handrails and steps are not loose and arrange for quick repairs if you discover they are. If there are no handrails, give serious consideration to having them installed.
It won’t take long when you’re caring for an elderly parent to learn that nighttime can be dangerous. If they get up during the night (and many do), they may be groggy or off-balance, especially at first. They may even be momentarily disoriented.
It’s probably a good practice to keep a lamp beside their bed and use nightlights in the hallway, bathroom and kitchen. That way, if they wake up thirsty or needing to go to the bathroom, there is a clear pathway. You may want to consider keeping a flashlight close to their bed as well, just in case the power goes out.
One of the best ways to protect your elderly parent from a potential fall is to place importance on preventative measures. Specifically, make sure they maintain a healthy diet and help them with exercises that focus on improving lower-body strength and increasing balance. Both types of exercises can help prevent a fall.
Some medications have side effects that can increase your parent’s risk of a fall. Take the time to schedule a medication review with their doctor to see if you can cut back or eliminate any of their current medications that might be increasing their fall risk.
While you’re at the doctor’s office, ask them to check your parent’s standing and sitting blood pressure. Blood pressure naturally drops when you stand up from a seated position. In older folks, it can cause them to feel light-headed, which can sometimes lead to a fall, especially if they’re taking medicine to lower their blood pressure.
You can also ask the doctor to observe your parent standing up and walking around a bit to evaluate their gait and their balance. If either seems unsteady, the doctor can refer them to physical therapy for a formal evaluation, which is typically covered by Medicare.
Lastly, in addition to the exercises mentioned earlier for lower body strength and balance, almost any exercise program done consistently will be beneficial in reducing the risk for falls. This can include daily walks, stretching, and any other forms of exercise they enjoy doing. You can ask a physical therapist to get involved to help your elderly parent know what exercises they can do to derive the maximum benefit.
You may also want to make sure your parent is taking 1000IU of Vitamin D every day – pending doctor approval, of course. It’s cheap, easy and endorsed by the American Geriatrics Society. Research suggests supplementing with Vitamin D is helpful in reducing falls, especially if your parent has low levels already.
Caring for an elderly parent can sometimes seem like a daunting task, and make no mistake, sometimes it really is. However, making yourself aware of the potential hazards in your home and making a few simple changes can significantly lower the risk of your parent falling. This should at least give you a little peace of mind, knowing you’ve done everything you could do to provide the safest environment possible.