How to Prevent Falls: Top 5 Ways to Protect the Elderly
Falls are the number one cause of injury (both fatal and non-fatal) in people over 65. Yikes! As a result, it is important to learn how to prevent falls – for yourself and for your older loved ones.
When I was taking care of my 85 year old grandparents, it was a major fall that signaled to us all that it was time to move them to an assisted living center. They had reached the point where living in a split-level house with 2 sets of stairs was becoming a safety hazard.
Like with my grandparents, sometimes a fall can signal the need to move or set-up additional care. On the other hand, sometimes it is just a wake-up call to make sure you are doing all you can to make your (or your senior’s) living environment as safe as possible.
One Third of All Seniors Fall
- According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one out of every three seniors will fall each year.
- Moreover, according to Sixtyandme, the falls older adults take have consequences:
- One in three falls requires medical assistance.
- Shockingly, hospitals around the US see more than 2.8 million people every year just for falls.
- As a result, there are financial consequences for treating these falls.
- Non-fatal falls cost about $50 billion every year.
- While fatal falls cost $750 million per annum, according to Sixtyandme.
However, many of these falls are preventable.
Let’s look at how you can set yourself or your senior loved-one up for safety and success – both in and out of the home.
Step 1: The How to Prevent Falls Safety Assessment
According to the National Council on Aging, there are six areas you should assess when considering how to prevent falls: balance and gait, vision, medications, environment, and chronic conditions.
Fall Prevention Quiz
Answer these questions to create the foundation for your Fall Prevention Plan.
- How is your balance and coordination? Do you run into things often? How often do you stumble? Are you relying on support for walking (i.e. walls, canes, furniture, walkers)?
- How is your vision? Have you had an eye check-up lately? How old are your glasses? Is there a lot of light available in your living spaces?
- Do you have any health problems that might cause you to fall?
- Are you taking any medications that have side-effects that might contribute to a fall?
- Can you see any major safety concerns in your house (i.e. stair, sharp corners)?
- Do you have any pets or family members that might contribute to unsafe living conditions?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you can start to address them one-by-one with the steps below.
Step 2: Work on Balance & Coordination
Prevent Falls by Improving Your Balance
If you don’t use it, you loose it, applies directly to balance. We must all keep up on our balance and agility to stay healthy and active. This especially applies to people over the age of 65.
If you, or your loved-one, have significant challenges with walking and balancing, you should seek out the help of a professional physical therapist.
If you are just looking to stay on-top-of your balance and mobility, then it is time to work-out! Being active and participating in fitness activities in general is the first step in keeping your balance.
Yoga, Strength & Balance Exercises
Next, if you want to work directly on improving balance, turn to exercises like yoga and tai chi. These have many different moves and poses that help you challenge your mind and body to focus, strengthen and balance.
We recommend this program as a way to keep mobile or get back into fitness. The Grow Young Fitness Chair Exercises for Seniors is a very popular program for regaining balance and strength.
The DVD Starter Pack includes Cardio, Core work, Balance and gentle Yoga. It is an easy, safe, effective workout DVD for beginning fitness seniors and the elderly. This starter kit is by Grow Young Fitness.
Products to Help You Prevent Falls
If you, or your loved-one, need a little balance support in everyday life, we have a few recommendations that have helped our senior friends over the years.
Our number one recommendation, is having a good cane. Even better – a cane with a portable seat.
Often it is just nice to know you have the freedom to go where you choose and not have to worry about needing support to stand or sit. The Drive Medical Deluxe Folding Cane Seat is our top cane choice for mobility and safety.
We like that the cane is light enough (1.3 lbs) to walk comfortably with and the chair is comfortable enough for short rests and medium waits. The chair can support up to 250 lbs.
It is especially good for travel lovers who swear by this product to keep them feeling safe in new circumstances.
Note, you should always consult your medical professional or physical therapist on the use of walking aids.
Step 3: Make Sure You Can See
Check Your Eye Health
According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), our eyes start to show signs of aging in our mid-40s. Typically, aging eyes start to loose the ability to focus up close first and general deterioration continues as our eyes age.
It makes sense: if you can’t see well, trips and falls are much more likely to happen. As a result, eye-health is an important part of fall prevention for the elderly.
If you (or your loved ones) start to have problems with your eyes, make an appointment right away. The American Optometric Association (AOA) mentions eye problem warning signs to pay close attention to such as:
- Fluctuating Vision
- Seeing Floaters / Flashes
- Loss of Side Vision
- Seeing Distorted Images.
If you experience any of these, you should talk with your professional care providers right away.
In addition to normal eye aging, you can find more information on age-related vision problems (including Macular Degeneration, Cataracts, Diabetic Retinopathy, Dry Eye, Glaucoma and Retinal Detachment) here.
Steps to Protect Your Vision
- Improve Your Lighting: The AOA mentions that older adults need more light to see as well as they used to. As a result, setting up proper lighting in your home is crucial for senior safety.
- First, make sure that all of your rooms have plenty of both day-time and night-time lighting in general. Having a variety of light sources that are located in different places and at different heights will help to eliminate shadows and light up all objects in one’s path.
- In addition, make sure you have plenty of reading light, and glare reduction light to protect from reflecting sources. For example, putting back-lighting on the TV or keeping a lamp on while watching TV can help reduce eye strain and glare.
- Keep Prescriptions Up-to-Date: Next, regular eye exams should be on everyone over 65’s calendar. Your eyes are not only your first defense in fall prevention, but also crash prevention. If you (or your senior loved-one) are still driving – make eye health a number one priority and stay on top of your annual check-ups.
- Buy Eye-Drops: Finally, eyes get drier as you age. Your tear glands produce less moisture year-after-year. In order to maintain clear eyesight, you may need to use eye drops more often.
- Avoid Tint-Changing Lenses: These lenses do not adjust fast enough for aging eyes walking into a dark room from the sunlight. Consequently, these lenses are a major trip hazard.
- Watch out for Bifocals on Stairs. The two different lenses might mess-up perception, especially on the stairs.
Step 4: Check Your Health & Medications
Medical Conditions & Medication Concerns
There are many medical conditions that are associated with fall concerns. Moreover, there are many medications that come with concerning side-effects. Make sure you (or your loved-one) are on top of your health appointments and are aware of any changes in your health that might lead to fall concerns including dizziness or balance issues.
Next, discuss with your doctors what medications you are taking and if any of them have any side-effects that might cause a fall.
Finally, the National Council on Aging also warns against over the counter drugs that contain sleep aids. (Some might be identifiable by having “PM” in their name). Make sure that you are very aware of the effects of these drugs before using them.
If you or your loved-one are over the age of 65, and are on Medicare, then you have a covered preventative exam each year. Use this to stay on-top-of your medical concerns and to ask questions about your fall prevention plan. The National Council on Aging has a nice resource here, that shows you what preventative services are covered with Medicare.
Step 5: Make Your Home Safer
Here are the top safety concerns to address in your home:
- Stairs – the NOA suggests making sure you have plenty of light on your stairs. This is especially important at the top and the bottom of the stairs. Also, make sure your hand rails are sturdy and accessible.
- Bathrooms – Handrails are useful around toilets, tubs and showers. For additional support, look into shower chairs and aids.
- Sharp Edges – Take a good look around the home to see where you can remove or secure sharp or hard objects.
- Pets – dogs, cats and other pets have a way of getting under-foot. Make sure the pet is not a safety hazard.
- Other People – Alert all other friends and family members to be careful of where they are putting their possessions. Kids especially have been known to leave toys all over and in walkways.
In addition, we recommend this article from the NOA on how to safety proof your house.
Where to Turn When you Need Extra Help Preventing Falls
Even with the best prevention methods, there is always still a chance of a fall. As a result, part of your prevention plan should include what to do in the case of a fall.
Family, friends and neighbors are a good source of support. However, they are not always available. As a result, you may want to consider an outside source of support. There are many options these days for fall monitoring services, and for a good reason – they help save lives.
I believe that fall monitoring services offer peace of mind both seniors and their loved ones. Moreover, this sense of peace can create a less anxious atmosphere and prevent falls just by knowing help is always available. Knowing how common falls are, it is a good idea to keep assessing at what point you might be ready for a fall monitoring service.
Here are our Top Senior Monitoring Picks:
- MobileHelp – Provides an alert system that works with a “Fall Button” that can automatically detect when a fall occurs. This company gets almost 5/5 stars in most consumer review panels. Learn more here.
- LifeFone – Is our other top pick for Medical Alert Systems. It also is rated very highly and offers a free trial period. Spouses are also included in their standard pricing, which makes it a good choice for couples.
- Iamfine – As a different kind of monitoring service, Iamfine is a daily call service that checks in with your loved ones by phone. If they fail to answer after a few attempts, Iamfine will alert your “care circle.” The service has a free 2 week trial period as well.
For More Information on Caring for Elderly Parents & How to Prevent Falls
If you are looking for more information on caring for elderly parents, or if you are making a plan for you older years, please visit this article where we cover:
- Where can my aging parents/grandparents safely live?
- What services and products can keep them safe and happy?
- How can I help them with health care and insurance?
- Who should be in charge of their finances?
- Where can I go for support?
- Plus, this article will help relive caregiver stress and prevent burnout.
Conclusions on How to Prevent Falls
In summary, preventing falls in yourself and in your 65+ seniors, is a number one safety concern. As a result, you need to have a plan in place to keep everyone safe and healthy.
These steps will help you create your fall prevention plan.
- Take the Fall Prevention Quiz
- Work on Balance & Coordination
- Make Sure You Can See
- Check Your Health & Medications
- Make Your Home Safer
Finally, get outside help when needed, and know when you need to turn to a professional safety service. Falls do not have to be inevitable! We can all work together to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and independent as long as possible.