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How to Help Your Older Loved Ones Prevent Falls

How to Help Your Older Loved Ones Prevent Falls

Note: This is a guest post from Bonita (Lynn) Beattie, Vice President, Injury Prevention, National Council on Aging.

One in three older Americans falls every year. Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65+. Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones and head injuries. Even falls without a major injury can cause an older adult to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active.

Just ask Marjorie Brown of Seattle.

“In the past, I had fallen many times and had suffered from broken bones over and over again,” she says. “I couldn’t figure out why I was falling. I was standing at the kitchen table, turned around and I just fell – for no reason. Then at the beauty shop, I got my foot caught in the ring around the chair and had a terrible fall and broke my ankle.”

The broken ankle quickly led to a broken spirit. “I got so depressed because I couldn’t walk to the bus stop … I was just staying at home feeling more and more depressed and hopeless.”

Then, Marjorie enrolled in a class at the Southeast Seattle Senior Center called A Matter of Balance. The workshop emphasizes practical strategies to reduce the fear of falling.

“I’m a lot stronger now, both because of the exercises we did in the balance class and the chair exercise classes,” Marjorie says. “I’ve added grab bars in the bathroom and now I have night lights wherever I need them … I learned to wear the proper shoes and not to rush to answer the telephone when it rings. I learned to change old habits and develop new, safer habits.”

You can also take steps to reduce falls.

If you have an aging parent, grandparent or neighbor like Marjorie in your life, helping them reduce their risk of falling is a great way to help them stay healthy and independent as long as possible. Sept. 22 is National Falls Prevention Awareness Day, sponsored by the National Council on Aging’s Falls Free© Initiative. This year, 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico will be hosting health fairs, falls risk screenings and other events to educate older adults about this critical health issue.

The good news about falls is that most of them can be prevented. The key is to know where to look. Here are some common factors that can lead to a fall, and steps you can take to help reduce this risk:

  • Balance and gait: As we age, most of us lose some coordination, flexibility, and balance — primarily through inactivity, making it easier to fall. Take notice if your older loved ones are holding onto walls, furniture or someone else when walking or if they appear to have difficulty walking or arising from a chair.
  • Vision: In the aging eye, less light reaches the retina, making contrasting edges, tripping hazards and obstacles harder to see. If your older loved one wears glasses, make sure they have a current prescription and they’re using the glasses as advised by their eye doctor.
  • Medications: Some prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness, dehydration or interactions with each other that can lead to a fall. Find out if your older loved one is experiencing any problems with managing their own health. Talk to them about their medications.
  • Environment: Most seniors have lived in their homes for a long time and have never thought about simple modifications that might keep it safer as they age. Do a walk-through safety assessment of their home.
  • Chronic conditions: More than 90% of older adults have at least one chronic condition like diabetes, stroke or arthritis. Often, these increase the risk of falling because they result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain or multiple medications. A trained physical therapist can help your older loved one improve their balance, strength and gait through exercise.

For more ideas on how to make the home safer, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers a home assessment checklist in multiple languages. NCOA, the Administration on Aging, and the CDC also promote a variety of community-based programs, like A Matter of Balance, Stepping On, and Tai Chi, that can help older adults improve their balance and learn how to reduce their risk of falling. Contact your Area Agency on Aging to find out what’s available in your area.

 

Related Stories:

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Photo credit: Jean Anton, Southeast Seattle Senior Center, courtesy of the National Council on Aging.

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10:43PM PST on Dec 31, 2012

Thank you for the info.

10:42PM PST on Dec 31, 2012

Thank you for the info.

11:12AM PDT on Sep 24, 2012

Good advice.

4:53AM PDT on Sep 24, 2012

Tell your healthcare provider if you have had a fall If you fall, let your healthcare provider know right away. It is important for you to tell them what might have caused the fall – whether you tripped over something, for instance, or got dizzy and lost your balance, or felt your legs “go out” from under you. This important information will be used to help you avoid falling again.
Review your medications Put all of your medications –prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins or any other pills that you take– in a bag and bring them with you to your next visit with your healthcare provider. Together you can review your medications to see if any might increase your chance of falling. If so, your provider may change the dose, or prescribe another type of medicine for you.
Make a Falls Prevention Plan With Your Healthcare Provider During your visit, your healthcare provider may also check your balance, leg strength and function, your blood pressure, heart rate and rhythm; examine the way you walk; and test your vision.
Based on what your provider finds he or she may recommend certain exercises, physical therapy, balance training, a cane or walker, a change in the kind of shoes you wear or in your eyeglasses prescription, or prescribe new medication to lower your risk of falls.
Make Your Home Safe From Falls:
•Keep cords away from areas where you walk
•Remove loose carpets and rugs or tack down the carpets and only use ru

4:49AM PDT on Sep 24, 2012

Nikako

2:52AM PDT on Sep 24, 2012

Thanks.

10:23PM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

I'm glad you're safer, Evelyn. ANYONE who lives alone should think through an emergency plan. We need to have some kind of "telephone tree" so everyone gets a call at least once a day.

10:20PM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

After several falls myself I invested in one of those "I can't get up" necklaces, got a 911 phone also. I call in once a month just to be sure the program is working properly. Well worth the approx $60 a month.

8:20PM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

Hazards of age..

8:10PM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

Useful information, thanks!

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