According to the National Institutes of Health, more than one in three people over age 65 slips and falls each year. These falls cause more than 1.6 million older adults to go to emergency rooms in the U.S. with fractures and trauma. Fall-related injuries ultimately are the number one cause of injury deaths among the elderly. Preventing falls, then, is vital to caring for elderly loved ones.
How can you help your parents avoid falls? First, make sure that they aren’t on any medications that might cause dizziness or lack of balance. Many prescriptions can be changed for something with fewer side effects. Second, make sure that they wear rubber-soled shoes and not slick-soled or floppy slippers.
Then, take a careful inventory of the home and fall-proof it as much as possible by doing the following:
- Eliminate or secure loose rugs, floorboards, and any rough or torn edge on carpeting. Check doorways for uneven flooring or carpeting and fix any problems.
- Watch for slippery surfaces on hard floors. Use nonskid floor wax.
- Check the bed to be sure it is not too high. It should be low enough that your parents’ feet are flat on the floor when they are sitting on the edge of the mattress.
- Remove objects from the floor that might be a tripping hazard: plants, small tables, piles of newspapers, books, etc.
- Remove loose wires or cords from any pathway.
- Have good lighting. As eyesight diminishes, holes or steps are hard to distinguish from dark spots. Also make sure that light switches are easily accessible at the entrance to every room. Wireless switches are available that can be placed by the door to turn on room lamps if there are no wired switches near the doors.
- Put hand rails in the bathtub or shower and next to the toilet. Install a raised toilet seat.
- Place a slip-proof mat in the bathtub or shower. Add a shower chair if standing might be a problem.
- Move stored items off high shelves that require climbing on ladders or step stools for access. Change light bulbs, dust the ceiling, and do other regular home maintenance so that your parent is not tempted to climb on a ladder.
- Try to make it easy for your parent to live on a single floor and avoid walking up and down stairs. Add a bathroom or portable commode to the main living floor, if need be.
- Make sure that stairs have good hand rails that are easy for arthritic hands to grasp, and add non-slip stair treads to both indoor and outdoor steps.
- Outdoors, fix uneven surfaces and clean off snow and ice from sidewalks.
Falls may still happen, but these precautions can help to eliminate most hazards. The investment of time and money to take these steps will pay off in the long-term health and well-being of your parent.