PLYMOUTH — Every year, three million seniors are treated in the emergency room for fall injuries. Falling once doubles someone’s chances of falling again.
Preventing accidents in the home, including falls, is one of the most important planning strategies for helping seniors stay independent. Fractures, head trauma and other injuries can cause long-term mobility issues and have lasting physical effects. Once an injury occurs, it can affect someone’s ability to live the way they want and enjoy the same lifestyle and activities.
Health issues that occur more often during aging can also make seniors more likely to fall. These risk factors include:
- Muscle weakness
- Heart disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia
- Low blood pressure
- Poor vision
- Ear infections or inflammation
- Pain or sensitivity in the legs or feet
There are some precautions that seniors and their families can take to reduce the likelihood of a fall.
Evaluating risk factors and taking preventative measures in a way that considers the unique lifestyle, needs and health of a senior can help.
- Minimize trip hazards – Some fall hazards are obvious, like flights of stairs, slippery shower floors or cords too far from a wall outlet. But there are less obvious things that can be an issue for someone with dizziness or vision loss. These include loose rugs, certain types of carpeting, dimly lit hallways or dog toys in the middle of the floor. Removing hazards and installing safety devices, like grab bars and brighter light bulbs, can help.
- Evaluate footwear – Footwear that has an open back, doesn’t fit properly, is worn out or has a slippery bottom can all contribute to tripping or balance problems. There are a variety of safe shoe options to fit any activity and personal style. Safe shoes don’t have to be boring.
- Know the effects of medication – Seniors and their families should talk to a healthcare professional about how a person’s specific medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, can have side effects that cause dizziness or balance issues.
- Nutrition and exercise – Having healthy habits for diet and exercise can prevent weakness in the legs and feet, and can reduce pain. Seniors should always talk to their doctor about any diet and exercise plan, and can ask specific questions about how these things affect their fall risk factors.
- Focus on mental health – Studies show a correlation between depression in seniors and falls. According to one report, “both depression and fear of falling are associated with impairment of gait and balance.” Positive mental wellbeing can improve many areas of a senior’s life, including a reduced fall risk. Connecting with loved ones, finding a sense of purpose, and engaging in enjoyable activities can improve physical and mental quality of life.
Some families only think about fall prevention after a loved one is hurt. Taking precautions before an accident happens can help seniors maintain their physical health and their independence.