Reducing Fall Risk – A Safety Checklist

affordable home care, care for older people, home care in Minnesota, respite for caregivers, senior citizen care, senior home assistance, inhome senior care providersFor most seniors living at home, their greatest fear is taking a fall, breaking a hip, and then ending up in a nursing facility, never to return home again.  Many seniors express this fear but yet are not willing to take preventive measures to minimize their risk of falling.  Causes of falls in and around the home include health and age-related changes such as problems with balance, slow reflexes, poor eyesight, or use of certain medications.  Situations in the home, such as slippery floors, poor lighting, loose rugs, clutter, or raised thresholds, may also cause falls.

Preventive measures could include moving the bedroom downstairs to minimize trips up and down stairs, having a non-medical senior care service help with laundry if laundry is in the basement (again to minimize the need to travel up and down stairs, especially if arms are full with a laundry basket), picking up scatter rugs to minimize tripping over them, getting physical therapy for strength and balance, or getting a personal emergency device such as Lifeline and wearing it!  You’d be surprised at how many seniors have personal emergency systems in place, but don’t wear their pendants, bracelets, or belt clips!

If you are taking care of elderly parents, the following are some practical ideas to share with them about what can be done to minimize fall risks in their homes:

1.  Remove clutter and keep pathways to doors clear and wide.

2.  Keep telephone and electrical cords out of pathways.

3.  Tack rugs and glue vinyl flooring to lie flat.  With rugs or runners that tend to slip, remove them, replace them, or attach non-slip backing.

4.  Ensure that carpets are firmly attached to stairs.

5.  Do not stand on a chair, ladder, or stool to reach things.  Store frequently used objects where they can be easily reached.

6.  Have a lamp or light switch that you can easily reach without getting out of bed.

7.  Use nightlights in the bedroom, bathroom, and hallways.

8.  Keep a flashlight handy.

9.  Turn on the lights when you go into the house at night.

10.  Have light switches at both ends of stairs and halls.

11.  Install handrails on at least one side (preferably both sides) of stairs.

12.  Install grab bars in the shower, tub, and toilet areas.

13.  Use nonslip adhesive strips or a mat in the shower or tub.

14.  Consider using a bench or a stool in the shower.

15.  Consider using an elevated toilet seat.

16.  Wear non-slip, low-heeled shoes or slippers that fit snugly. Avoid walking around in stocking feet.

17.  Use an assistive walking device, such as a cane, if needed.

18.  Pick up your feet!


And it may also be helpful to share with them to:

  • Review their medications with a physician or pharmacist on occasion because some drugs can make them drowsy, dizzy, or unsteady on their feet.
  • Have their hearing and vision tested periodically.  Inner ear problems can affect balance.  Poor vision can make it difficult to judge distances or see potential fall or tripping hazards.
  • Keep moving!  Regular exercise improves muscle flexibility, strength, and balance.  They should talk to their health care professionals about what exercise programs are right for them.  They may even consider paying privately for professional physical therapy, which can make a tremendous difference for many seniors.
  • Sit down if they feel dizzy, weak, or lightheaded!  They should stand up slowly and get their bearings before beginning to walk to avoid unsteadiness.

 

While it’s true that falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among older adults and that falls in and around the home are the most frequently occurring accident, it is also true that preventing falls and the resulting injuries indeed can reduce and/or delay the need to move to a long-term care facility.  It makes sense to talk to your loved ones about doing everything possible to minimize their risk of falling at home.  As I tell my clients, “If you want to stay at home, then be smart about it.”

(Information adapted from a brochure published by the American Red Cross and Philips Lifeline.)

 

Julie Ellingson, LSW

August 14, 2012

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