Evidence indicates that more than 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 falls each year. The risk of falling rises with age. It is a scary statistic. However, we cannot let the fear of falling keep us from being active. There are ways of lowering or preventing the risk of falling.
I dealt with several falls between both of my parents. It was never a good phone call to receive. My father’s fall changed everything for him. It became the beginning of his decline. It forced my parents to move out of their family home. Not only did my mother witness this fall but she then experienced her own share of falls.
In my mother’s case, her macular degeneration was a large contributor to her declining sense of balance. Her falls initially resulted only in bruises and muscle soreness. She claimed she knew what falling was about and that she was certainly never letting that happen again. I never completely followed her logic but I guessed that she figured as long as she did not repeat whatever it was she was doing that led to her falling, she would be safe.
I explained endless times that falls are accidents and often hard to predict. I encouraged her to look at what we could do to perhaps lessen the risk. Six out of ten falls happen at home so it makes sense to begin there.
Let’s consider these solutions:
- Handrails – Have them on both sides of the stairs and use them. If you have to carry something, have one hand free to hold on to one of the rails. Don’t let something you might be carrying block your vision of the steps.
- Good lighting – There should be light switches on the top and bottom of the stairs. Night lighting is a good safety measure.
- Clutter free – Keep things off the floors so that there is nothing to trip on. Wires and cords should be close to the wall of the room.
- Throw rugs/area rugs – Remove them. It is a tripping hazard for someone to catch his or her foot on the edge or for the rug to slip out underneath. Fix any carpet in the home firmly to the floor.
- Grab bars – These should be near toilets and tubs/showers. We have a list of agencies that install grab bars or other accessibility adaptations at https://nselder.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Environmental-Accessibility-Adaptations-11-3-2017.pdf
- Non-skid mats – Use for any surface that gets wet.
- Flashlight/phone – Keep both by your bedside.
- Furniture – Arrange it so that it is not in your way when walking, particularly low furniture like coffee tables.
- Reaching for things – Do not stand on a chair to reach something. You need a steady stepstool with a railing, preferably with someone to assist or a reach stick.
- Emergency Response System – This is an electronic device connected to a client’s telephone line. When the device is activated, a person from the monitoring station answers the call, speaks to the client, assesses the need, and takes appropriate action. Check our website for a list of agencies that offer this service at https://nselder.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/PERS-8-7-18.pdf.
If you have had a fall, talk to your doctor about arranging a healthcare professional (like an Occupational Therapist or a nurse) to visit your home to assess for safety. There are programs available at NSES like the Matter of Balance course https://nselder.org/what-we-do/live-well-age-well/ that address the issue of fall prevention. Check with your local Council on Aging Centers for similar programs.
I am not sure anything could have prevented either fall of my parent. I do know that their falls led to their rapid decline and ultimately death. My mother fit the statistic of one in three adults aged 50 and over dying within 12 months of suffering a hip fracture. She died one day before the year anniversary of her fall. I do not think we can be vigilant enough in emphasizing safety in the home to help prevent falls.