Preventing Falls

The main threat to an elderly person’s life is not disease or illness, it’s falls. A simple fall can be detrimental. Fractures or internal damage to muscles and tissues can occur.  A study in Canada showed that over a 9-year period, the second cause of hospitalization for women were falls (Wilkins,1999). In 1996-1997, around 132,000 people age 65 or older had a serious injury due to a fall. That represented about 4% of the total household senior population.  The majority of these accidents occurred in the home or nearby. Arms and hands were most commonly broken, with hips coming in third.

There are numerous ways to prevent falls. One is to exercise regularly. Joining a tai chi program is beneficial because it will strengthen muscles and promote good balance. Doing any type of activity that develops the core muscles and improves your center of gravity is helpful.

Another thing you can do is safety-proof your home. Remove obstacles such as rugs and clutter that can cause you to trip. Hallways and living areas should be well lit. Try lowering the clothes hanging in closets or kitchen items that you commonly use, so you won’t have to reach for them. Reachers are great devices for seniors that have a tendency to overreach and lose their balance. They can be used to grab items or to help pull up pants or socks. Put safety grab bars around your toilet, and also put a guard rail on the bed.

Many accidents happen in the shower. Use of a shower stool while bathing can minimize falls in the bath tub. Bath mats can also prevent slippage. Make sure the soles of your shoes are not too slick or too thick -soled that it could impede your movement. Eliminate climbing up on anything like step stools. Remove overly thick wall to wall carpets in the house as they are very hard to balance on. Medication side effects can make you drowsy or drop your blood pressure, which can cause fainting or loss of balance.  It is also important to check your vision.

As people age, they can lose sensitivity in their feet. This is especially exacerbated in people with diabetes or neuropathy. Vibrating insole devices are showing promising results.  The shoes vibrate at a low frequency, making the brain aware of what the feet are doing. Falls occur because there is a deterioration in communication between feet and brain. Those tested wearing this footwear were able to maintain their balance like a 20-year-old.

Preventing falls among the elderly is especially challenging. Besides the physical ailments, there can be problems with memory loss and dementia. This is particularly difficult when trying to teach them to think about their movements with relation to their body and their environment. You may have to have watch them 24/7 as it is difficult to get someone with dementia problems to remember the proper and safe ways to move. These suggestions can help minimize falls, but there are no guarantees. It may be that your loved one will not be able to live independently anymore.

References cited:Wilkins, K. (1999). Health care consequences of falls for seniors. Statistics Canada: Health Reports 10(4) (Catalogue 82-003).


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