Slips, Trips, and Falls and the Elderly: A Home Safety Checklist
As we all know, it is not uncommon for our beloved elderly to experience accidents in the home…and while it may seem that we are, at times, helpless as these scenarios play out, what’s important is learning how we can go about minimizing their injuries. First, it must be understood that dangers around the average home cause thousands of unintentional deaths per year – and falls are the cause of the most common fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults.
Consider that, according to the Centers for Disease Control:
• Some 2.3 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults in 2010 were treated in emergency departments, with more than 662,000 of these patients hospitalized.
• The direct medical costs of falls, as adjusted for inflation, was $30 billion in 2010.
• Between 20 and 30-percent of falls among adults age 65 and older result in hip fractures, head lacerations and head trauma – injuries that normally lead to making living on their own more difficult.
• More than one-third of adults 65 and older fall each year…and fewer than half of them talk about falling with their health care provider.
Make no mistake – even if a fall doesn’t result in an injury, it can instill an inherent fear of falling in older adults, ultimately limiting their mobility and weakening their muscles. That, in turn, can present slips trips and falls as even higher risks.
Indeed, researchers have found that the risks of falls in the elderly are greater if they already exhibit lower-body weakness, difficulty with walking and balance or are taking four or more types of medications on a regular basis. To reduce the risk of injury, it’s often suggested that the elderly engage in regular exercise to increase lower body strength and improve balance, while their doctor or pharmacist is kept abreast to review and revise, if necessary, their medications to reduce side effects and interactions.
Home Safety Checklist to Reduce Falls Among Older Adults
There are a myriad of safety measures you can take to prevent slips and falls in the home if an elderly relative is living on their own, with you, or even just visiting. These include, but are certainly not limited to:
• Ensure stairways have handrails on both sides.
• Attach safety treads to steps.
• Remove tripping hazards such as throw rugs, sharp-edged furniture and clutter from walkways.
• Employ self-adhesive, non-skid mats or safety treads in bathtubs, showers and pools.
• Utilize non-skid rugs on bathroom floors.
• Utilize non-skid pads under rugs on bare floors.
• Install grab bars on both sides of toilets and bathtubs, taking special note of those used by seniors.
The Tai Chi Factor
Interestingly, into this mix comes a Harvard Medical School report that touts the virtues of exercise for preventing falls and even reversing some of the many conditions associated with aging. Tai Chi, in particular, earned a spot in a Harvard Health publication, which concluded that the ancient Chinese mind/body practice improves balance and muscle tone, and could be “the perfect activity for the rest of [one’s] life.” It was even suggested that people confined to wheelchairs can participate in the activity.
Further, PubMed.gov also conducted a six-month trial for the purpose of determining the effect of Tai Chi on older adults, and during the trial inactive older adults who participated three times a week appeared to have decreased the risk of falls by some 55-percent compared to a control group. Of course, in addition to regular exercise, it is always recommended that older adults ask a doctor if their medications may be causing dizziness, and they should make sure to have regular vision exams.
It’s Only Because You Love Them…
The role reversal involved with taking care of an aging parent can be daunting, exhausting, and challenging…indeed, not every parent wants their child’s advice or help when it comes to making their home safe. But as we celebrate Older Americans Month in May, we can let our loved ones know how much we care for and value them by putting the proper precautions in place and creating a home assistance plan – they might even discover life can be a lot easier this way.