September is fall prevention awareness month.
September flew by in our household. Recovering from a wedding, sending 2 seniors back to school to finish their last year (college and high school) and somehow I decided to honor fall prevention awareness month by jumping into a certification for a fall prevention specialist course. While I may have felt like I was in too deep at times, and had limited time to blog, I completed my certification, and wow did I learn a lot of new information. Here are just a few thoughts…
There are many things we can assess in our environment to prevent or limit falls.
Prevention of falls begins with our environment. Yes, accidents happen, but as we age our bodies are less resilient to challenging surfaces and unexpected changes in our living spaces. The more we do to set up our environment to be safe, the less likely we will be to face to those unexpected challenges. Falls can not only lead to painful strains and fractured bones, for the elderly, they are the leading cause of injuries that lead to fatality. (Lively, 2021) Many falls for the elderly do take place in their own home. As I have witnessed the aftermath of many patient falls over the years while working in home care, I can honestly tell you many of them could have been prevented by adjusting the environment. Here are just a few tips from my experience in home care, that I would recommend for assessing your/your patient or loved one’s home:
Fall Prevention Tips:
1 Clear and stabilize the pathway from the car to the front door. If there are steps to enter, a rail or grab bar will improve safety. Rugs at the door should not be loose or mobile.
2 Look at the main areas of living: bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and “TV room”. There should be a clear path to get to and from all of those areas. No loose blankets or cords, no magazines or clothes lying around the floor of the chair they will sit in.
3 Make sure the chairs they use are safe and supportive, not too low. Armrests are helpful for sitting balance support and improve ability to get up safely.
4 Keep frequently used kitchen and bathroom tools in easy reach (limit reaching and bending).
5 There are many different types of equipment available to purchase and use in your bathroom to improve safety. Grab bars, toilet risers, bath seats, etc. A fifty dollar purchase could help prevent a very time consuming and expensive fall recovery! An Occupational Therapist is a specialist in bathroom safety and set up. Every person and bathroom is unique, so I highly recommend pursing an individualized assessment if you are struggling in any way with bathroom activities.
6 Move about in the home simulating all of the tasks you would need to do throughout the day, and look for anything that might hinder safety: getting in and out of bed, getting dressed, accessing medications, preparing food, getting the newspaper or mail, answering the telephone, reaching for laundry detergent, getting to and from the car.
7 Don’t forget about checking the fit and safety of: hearing aids, glasses, supportive shoes, clothes that are easy to get on and don’t drape at the feet, safety necklace, walking aids, and any other medical equipment.
8 And stairs. Please turn on the light!!!! Make sure the rails are secure, and 2 rails is better than one. Go slowly. Keep in mind that ascending is typically more of a strength challenge, and descending will challenge your balance.
Daily activities to prevent or limit falls:
9 Get good sleep, and if at all possible sleep in a bed. If you sleep in a recliner your hips are not able to fully extend, and over time they may become tight. Tight hip flexors may cause you to lean forward when you walk, decreasing your posture and balance reactions.
10 Make sure to drink water and stay hydrated. We emphasize that thought a lot during the hot summer months, but I have had many patients become dehydrated and sick during the winter months, also.
11 Take your medications faithfully and correctly. Review and limit medications as able. The less medications that you take means fewer side effects or possible interactions.
12 Pay attention to your diet. High or low blood sugar, and not enough protein, are common issues that can lead to someone becoming weak or unsteady.
13 Move throughout the day! People who sit in chairs all day are at higher risk of falling. Get up and move regularly. Walk often if you can, or at least exercise sitting in your chair: don’t be sedentary. Cardiovascular exercise, strengthening exercise, and flexibility or stretches will all contribute to a sturdier body frame. Join an exercise group, or get individualized help if you have other medical concerns.
14 Perform specific balance activities regularly. Many studies have demonstrated that faithful balance exercise decreases your risk of falling. Balance exercises should challenge your ankles, hips, and stepping reactions (safely), and should be performed regularly. Studies show that it may take 3-6 months to see definite results, but it will make a difference, and reduce your risk!
15 Get help for fall prevention:
Community agencies such as the YMCA may have senior balance classes. Fire stations will sometimes evaluate your home for fall prevention and safety.
Your physician can perform a quick fall screen and recommend appropriate help such as Home Health Care or outpatient PT or OT. There are many outpatient clinics that will now see you in your home, and many private practise OTs and PTs who may evaluate and treat you right in your home!
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