By Diane Kane, MD
Falling is a serious concern for older adults who are working hard to maintain their independence in their own homes. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
Reduced muscle strength, increased inactivity, more severe chronic health conditions and increased use of prescription medications are risk factors for falls among older Americans. Fall injury rates are almost seven times higher for older adults with poor health than for those with excellent health (CDC).
It is important to note that falling is not a normal part of aging. Strength and balance exercises, managing your medications, having your vision checked and making your home safer are all steps you can take to prevent a fall.
First and foremost, talk to your healthcare provider about fall prevention and tell them about any falls you’ve had. Although one out of four older Americans falls each year, less than half tell their doctor. Fall prevention is a team effort. Your doctor and your loved ones want you to maintain your independence and avoid injury — be honest with them.
Simple Steps at Home
Simple changes to the home environment can make a big difference — and the changes don’t need to be costly or time consuming. Here are eight ways to make your home a fall-free zone.
1. Clear the way. Shoes, boots and the items we all stack on our stairs can become tripping hazards. Get them out of the way.
2. Pay attention to uneven surfaces, like the thresholds between rooms. The transition from a carpeted room to a tile or wood floor can create a ridge. In older homes, a step up or down from one room to the next can be a tripping hazard.
3. Add handrails to help you get up from the tub, and make sure your tub and shower have non-skid floor surfaces.
4. Don’t let the throw rug throw you. Throw rugs and mats can be slippery on linoleum, wood or tile floors. Place a gripper mat under them to keep them in place, or get rid of them altogether.
5. Place night lights in your bedroom and bathrooms. If you’re getting up in the middle of the night, make sure you can see where you’re going.
6. Wear non-skid footwear for better traction. Avoid leather-soled shoes or other footwear with flat, slippery soles.
7. Make sure stairs are in good repair. Crumbling or decaying stairs can be hazardous. If you don’t have railings, get them installed.
8. Add outdoor lights at all of your doors, so you can see exactly where you’re stepping and what might be in your way. Consider motion-sensor lights that come on as you approach.
Take steps like these to make your next steps sure and steady.
Physician Diane Kane is chief medical officer at St. Ann’s Community. She is board-certified in internal medicine, geriatrics, hospice and palliative medicine and has been involved in senior care for 29 years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.stannscommunity.com.