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Preventing Trips, Slips & Falls

Safety
home health aide helps patient with walker

Trips and falls are the most common kinds of accidents in the home. They can be very dangerous for older adults. You can reduce your parent’s risk of falling by making their home safe and addressing any medical risk factors they might have. These simple tips can help prevent falls to keep your parents safe at home.

Risk Factors at Home

Remove safety hazards:

Clear paths

Look around each room in your parent’s home. Move any furniture so they can walk around and through the room easily.

Eliminate clutter

Remove anything that can cause trips and falls, such as shoes, books, and laundry baskets. A good rule of thumb? If something doesn’t need to be there, remove it. Move electrical cords or tape them down. (Tip: Do not hide cords under rugs! This is a fire hazard.)

Install proper lighting

Be sure stairways are well lit, and use nightlights in hallways, bedrooms, and bathrooms. If an outlet isn’t available, use battery-powered push lights. The type of lighting is important — fluorescent, halogen, and overhead lighting can be too bright. Use table lamps when possible.

Maintain assistive devices

Make sure your loved one always uses their walker, cane, or other assistive devices. (Tip: If your loved one’s home has stairs, keep one on each level.) If they use a cane or a walker, make sure that the rubber tips are intact. Worn-out tips can make the device unsafe and cause a fall. New rubber tips can be found at a drugstore or surgical supply store.

Ensure balance and stability

Install grab bars wherever extra support might be needed, such as in the bathroom and the shower. (Remember that a towel bar isn’t designed to support body weight.) Be sure stairways have sturdy railings.

Medical Factors and Falling

Certain medical conditions and medications can increase your loved one’s risk of falling:

  • Diabetes can cause joint pain, pressure sensitivity in the feet, dizziness, and vision problems.
  • Circulatory diseases, like COPD, congestive heart failure, and low blood pressure (hypotension), can cause dizziness and affect balance.
  • Bone and joint conditions, such as osteoporosis and arthritis, can affect balance and mobility.
  • Eye diseases, such as glaucoma and cataracts, interfere with vision and might cause your loved one to trip over something they didn’t see.
  • Medications that depress the central nervous system increase the risk of falling. Examples include pain relievers, heart medications, antidepressants, and seizure medications, as well as over-the-counter sleep aids, allergy medications, and some cold and cough remedies.
  • The number of medications a person takes also affects their risk of falling. Taking four or more per day increases risk by nearly one-third—and 40% of Americans over age 65 take five to nine medications daily.

The good news is that managing medical risk factors can help your loved one stay safe on their feet and avoid injury.

Improve strength, coordination, and mobility

Getting stronger can go a long way toward preventing trips and falls. Healthy seniors who live at home should aim to participate in an exercise program at least twice a week to maintain strength and agility. It’s always wise to get the go-ahead from a doctor before beginning an exercise program, but if you or your loved one has a chronic disease, receiving a physician’s approval first is critical. For example, a person with diabetes may have foot problems that interfere with balance. A doctor may recommend working with a physical therapist to ensure that a person is doing the right exercises for their condition and that they are doing them the right way to prevent injury.

Wear the right footwear

Also make sure your parent wears proper footwear with rubber soles and a closed back. Avoid ill-fitting shoes, which can increase the chances of falling on uneven or slippery surfaces and decrease overall stability. If your loved one has trouble bending over to put on shoes, invest in a good-quality shoehorn or reacher to make the task easier. And of course, make sure shoelaces are tied!

Check vision

Your loved one should have a vision assessment every year and pursue treatments that will correct any problems that are discovered. Poor depth perception can lead to problems navigating uneven or slippery terrain.

Gave medications reviewed

Have medications reviewed by a medical professional, especially if your loved on is taking psychotropic medications. Always talk to a doctor before making any changes—and be sure that the primary care physician is aware of all the medications your loved one is taking, including those prescribed by other doctors, as well as any over-the-counter drugs or supplements. This way, any interactions or side effects can be addressed. Be sure that dizziness or a lack of stability is not a potential side effect of the drugs your loved one takes.

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