Heart attacks, stroke, cancer — each of these gives us reason to worry about the health of aging loved ones. But did you know that household hazards could pose an even greater risk to the health and well-being of senior adults?
Falls rank among the leading causes of accidental death in the United States and are the top cause for fatal and non-fatal injuries among older adults. Falling can be dangerous at any age, but for senior adults, slipping or tripping and falling can cause hip fractures, broken bones and head injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one-third of older adults who fall, suffer a hip fracture and are hospitalized, die within a year.
Even without hospitalization, a history of falling could also lead to anxiety and depression that prohibits older adults from maintaining an active lifestyle. Fear of falling causes many senior adults to lose confidence and become less active as a result.
The good news is that there is much we can do to help prevent accidental falls by making living environments safer for our aging loved ones. Senior adults can fall for any number of reasons. Some of the most common causes of falls include:
- Loss of coordination, flexibility and/or balance
- Vision or hearing loss
- Side effects of medications, such as dizziness, dehydration or interactions with other meds
- Environmental factors, such as tripping hazards around the home
- Chronic conditions such as diabetes, stroke or arthritis
If you are a caregiver and/or loved one of a senior adult, here are six simple steps the National Council on Aging recommends to help prevent falls:
Talk about falling and discuss fears of falling. Many older adults recognize that falling is a risk, but they believe it won’t happen to them or they won’t get hurt — even if they’ve already fallen in the past. Encourage your loved one to discuss any concerns about falling, dizziness or balance with their healthcare provider.
Assess their current health condition. Is your loved one having trouble remembering to take their medications — or are they experiencing any side effects of those medications? Is it becoming more difficult for your loved one to do things they once could do easily? Are changes in hearing and vision beginning to affect daily life?
Talk about medications. Medications should be reviewed each time they get a new prescription. Beware of non-prescription medications that contain sleep aids. These can lead to balance issues and dizziness. If medications are causing side effects, talk to your loved one’s doctor or pharmacist.
Encourage annual eye exams. Whether or not your loved one wears prescription lenses, older adults should have an annual eye exam to check for changes in vision or signs of other age-related vision problems, such as cataracts. Tint-changing lenses and even bifocal lenses can be problematic for some people, so remind your loved one to use caution when going from bright sun into darkened buildings or when using stairs.
Consult a physical therapist. If your loved one must hold onto walls, furniture or someone else when walking, or if they appear to have difficulty walking or rising from a chair, seek help from a physical therapist. A trained physical therapist can help improve balance, strength and gait through exercise. A physical therapist may also suggest a cane or walker — and provide guidance on how to use these aids. Make sure to follow their advice. Poorly fit aids can increase the risk of falling.
Do a walk-thru safety inspection of their living space. There are many simple and inexpensive ways to help make a home safer for aging adults. Here is a simple checklist to help ensure a safe environment for your loved one:
- Increase lighting throughout the home
- Secure railings on all stairways
- Install grab bars in bathrooms
- Remove or secure area rugs
- Clear clutter from walking paths
- Plug lamps and other electronics in near the wall so cords are tucked away
- Place non-skid mats in the bathtub or shower
- Purchase well-fitting, non-slip house shoes and avoid clothing that drags on the ground
Is it no longer safe for your loved one to live in his or her own home? If so, it may be time for a conversation about moving to a senior living facility. The Cottages provide state-of-the-art certified assisted living residences with 24-hour staff for people living with Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders. Contact us today to learn more.