Most Americans want to stay in their homes as long as possible, even the rest of their lives.
In order to age in place successfully, we have to remain independent and capable of caring for ourselves as we grow older.
There are many lifestyle changes our senior loved ones can make as they age so they can maintain the highest level of function and thus independence in their elder years.
Seniors and future seniors should make real efforts to eat right, stay physically active, manage weight and do strength building exercises to improve balance and prevent falling.
Falling can increase the likelihood of losing independence and getting moved to a nursing home or even suffering a fatal injury. Falls are the leading cause of death and injury for seniors.
Most falls (55%) occur in people’s homes, with another 23% occurring outside, but near, home.
Prevention is the best option when we think about falls in seniors especially compared to treatment and final outcomes.
Helping Prevent Senior Falls
We hear about the many things we can do to help prepare our senior’s home to prevent falls.
Here are just a few things we can all do to make our senior’s homes safer:
- Remove clutter.
- Provide appropriate lighting.
- Remove throw rugs and other tripping obstacles from the floor.
- Rearrange furniture for best access, opening up walkways.
- Keep items within easy reach, including in the kitchen.
- Repair loose floorboards, steps and thresholds and install handrails on both sides of hallways, including porches.
- Install grab bars in bathroom at sinks, showers and toilets.
There are also personal changes that will help your senior stay standing. Here are just a few examples:
- Review medications to be sure prescription or over the counter drugs are not causing side effects that may lead to falls.
- Drink adequate amounts of fluids.
- Stay physically active every day. By getting exercise your senior will help prevent muscle loss, build muscles, improve balance and coordination and stay flexible. Stiff joints can lead to falls.
- Have yearly dilated eye exams and use any prescribed corrective lenses.
- Get enough sleep to refresh and restore muscles.
- Wear appropriate shoes whenever not in bed
Assistive Devices for Fall Prevention
An important part of fall prevention in the home is for senior’s to use assistive devices that have been recommended by their healthcare team.
Many seniors who own devices don’t use them in the home because they feel that they aren’t needed or the distance is too short, from bedroom to bathroom for example, to need it.
Guess what – 55% of falls occur in the home! It is important for our senior loved ones to actually use their devices.
We have all heard stories that our seniors don’t want to use the devices they have when they go out because they don’t want to appear ‘old’ or ‘infirm’. I recently heard about a 100 year old woman who wouldn’t use her walker despite severe hip pain because she thought it made her look old!
All too often our seniors know they need the devices they own, don’t really want to have to need them or use them so instead isolate themselves in their homes. Lack of engagement and social interaction through self-isolation can lead to depression and declining health.
It makes a bad situation worse.
Right Device Sized Properly
Some seniors may be using devices purchased from a pharmacy that have not been approved or fitted to them by a professional which can lead to harm. Others may borrow one from a friend or loved one, trying to save money.
It is important to seek the advice of a therapist when getting assistive mobility devices in order to be safe and use them safely.
Some seniors may also think that using a device will put them at greater risk, but research has shown no increased risk of falls in those using an appropriately sized assistive device.
In other words, a properly-used walker that is fitted to the user’s height will not cause a fall.
A few devices that we often see used by seniors are canes, walkers, rollators, motorized scooters, wheelchairs, and other devices. Also considered assistive devices are the raised toilet seats and shower benches that can provide benefits by preventing falls in the bathroom.
Reliance on Assistive Devices Growing
The statistics show that, as the population ages, more and more seniors have, or at least should be using, assistive mobility devices. In fact, the number has grown by 50% in the past few years, according to interviews of Medicare beneficiaries.
In addition, 10% of seniors interviewed report using more than one device. That is seen as a good thing by researchers because it indicated the seniors are using different devices depending on the situation to get the most benefit.
Hopefully, as accessibility in the community for seniors who use these devices increases, society’s acceptance of elders needing to use assistive mobility devices — and seniors feeling comfortable using them in public — will continue to increase so that the number of seniors falling and being injured, or worse, will decrease.
We can’t prevent every fall but with some planning, modifications and interventions we can reduce the number of falls our senior loved ones experience. Hopefully we can avoid injury by making some changes.
After all, our seniors just want to live independently as long as possible and family caregivers want this for them too!