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Don’t Get Tripped Up: Preventing Senior Falls

As loved ones age, it can be easy to believe that falls are part of the aging process. But, that notion couldn’t be further from the truth. While the instance of falls can increase with age, many falls can be prevented with a caregiver’s watchful eye and a few practical lifestyle adjustments.

As a caregiver, safety is one of your biggest concerns and falls threaten older adults’ safety and independence. Did you know falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older adults? The Center for Disease Control* (CDC) reports that more than one in four older adults fall each year, but less than half tell their doctor. And, falling once reportedly doubles the chances of falling again.

But, don’t let these statistics scare you. Use the facts to empower yourself and senior loved ones around you. Preventing falls begins with you!

Participate in the National Council on Aging’s annual Falls Prevention Awareness Day on September 22 – the first day of fall. Each year caregivers, family members and friends are encouraged to assess older adults’ environment and physical well-being for fall prevention and safety. The goal of this assessment is to help older adults remain independent as long as possible while being safe.

Home Instead, Inc. (franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® franchise network) and The University of Nebraska Medical Center teamed up to provide home assessments and exercises that you can do with your senior in a few short minutes to determine the potential risk for falls. Each assessment or exercise has a demonstration video and the complete, nine-part video series can be found on CaregiverStress.com®.

When your aging loved one is ready to do these assessments and exercises, it is recommended that you or another caregiver stand in a close supervisory role with your feet shoulder width apart and a slight bend in the knee. This stance positions you with good support and agility should your loved one lose his or her balance and require help.

Two At Home Fall Risk Assessments:

  • Chair Stands: assess lower body strength, which helps older adults maintain balance.
  • 8 Foot Up and Go: measures balance, agility and walking speed. If an older adult cannot complete this assessment in nine seconds or less, this indicates a potential fall risk.

Six At Home Exercises to Improve Strength & Balance:

  • Side Leg Raises: Side leg raises help to improve the strength of the hips and legs.
  • Weight Shifts: Older adults need to maintain their center of gravity while they are walking. This exercise helps to strengthen the area around their belly button.
  • Heel to Toe Raises: Heel toe raises help older adults improve the strength of their lower leg muscles, which are important for balance during walking.
  • One Legged Stand: One legged stands are important for older adults to practice to help maintain strength in their center of gravity.
  • Heel Toe Walk: This exercise helps maintain balance while moving, like stepping to the side or over things.
  • Walking on Toes: Flexible walking patterns are important for older adults, and this exercise helps maintain strength while walking.

These assessments and exercises can help improve a senior’s strength and balance, key components to keeping a senior out of the hospital because of a fall.

In addition to exercising regularly, the CDC recommends that older adults take a few, proactive steps to help prevent falls at home and while on the go. For instance, you can help your senior loved one by scheduling an annual eye exam and medication review.

  • Ask their doctor or pharmacist to review their medicines—both prescription and over-the-counter—to identify medicines that may cause side effects or interactions, such as dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Have their eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year and update their eyeglasses to maximize their vision. Consider getting a pair with single vision distance lenses for some activities, such as walking outside.

One of the most critical ways a family caregiver can help prevent senior falls is by evaluating the loved one’s home for potential fall hazards. For older adults to age in place, simple environment changes can make the home safer and help prevent falls. You can help make your senior’s home safer with the following tips.

Simple Home Updates to Reduce the Risk of a Fall:

  • Remove clutter from pathways and remove or secure throw rugs.
  • Make sure the home and stairways are well lit and apply high-contrast colored tape to top and bottom of stairs and thresholds.
  • Arrange furniture to make rooms easy to navigate and allow enough space to walk around furniture.
  • Organize the house so items used most frequently are at waist level, minimizing the need to bend or climb.
  • Use a night light and/or leave a light on in the bathroom to reduce the risk of falls in the dark.
  • Install handrails throughout the home.

Safe Walking Reminders to Reduce the Risk of a Fall:

  • Suggest use of a cane when walking on uneven surfaces.
  • Encourage seniors to wear shoes with non-slip soles.
  • Ask seniors to avoid walking in stocking feet on wood floors.
  • Replace shoe laces that tie with elastic ones that won’t come untied.
  • Suggest the senior keep one hand free when walking to allow him or her to grab onto a sturdy object to stop a fall.
  • Minimize distractions and help the senior focus while walking.
  • Allow plenty of time for activities and tasks.

For more suggestions and fall prevention ideas, the National Council on Aging’s list of Fall Prevention Coalition lead(s) will help you find a fall prevention program near you and learn about fall prevention efforts in your state.

Last revised: August 29, 2018

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