Preventing Falls in Older Adults
Sep 18, 2019 Agata Smieciuszewski
Whether you have an older relative living with you, visiting for a holiday, or living on their own, it's crucial to think ahead and prepare a safe atmosphere for them.
Falls are the second-leading cause of accidental or unintentional injury deaths. Who's most at risk? People over 65.
"Exercise is the only thing that has been proven to prevent falls."
"Nobody knows when they are going to fall," says Dr. Sonja Rosen, chief of geriatric medicine.
"The best way to avoid a fall is to be super careful and mindful of your environment."
Every year, over 37 million people suffer falls that require medical attention, which can lead to chronic pain, disability, hip fractures, pelvic fractures, and more health issues. These injuries are more likely to be severe for older people and children.
"Loss of independence resulting from fall injuries is the biggest issue with many of our older adults," says Kathleen Breda, who leads the Geriatric Fracture Program at Cedars-Sinai.
Use these tips to help your relatives avoid falls and stay safe.
Tips to Prevent Falls
Decrease clutter around the house that could cause someone to trip.
Remove or secure rugs, keep objects off the floor and stairs, and tape wires down.
Ensure that pathways through furniture are clear and easy to navigate.
Make sure outside stairs, porches, and indoor spaces have plenty of light. Add nightlights in necessary spots and make sure light switches are easy to access.
"Older people often get up at night to use the bathroom," says Dr. Rosen. "Make sure that the area is well-lit and free of obstacles so they don't trip."
Encourage loved ones who have a cane or walker to use it.
"The rubber stoppers on the bottom of walkers and canes can often get worn down and cause people to slip easily," says Kathleen. "Check periodically to make sure they're not over-worn."
Urge your loved ones to be careful when going somewhere unfamiliar.
"I hear a lot from my patients that they fall when they go to a new place and are unfamiliar with the surroundings," says Dr. Rosen.
Many older patients are on medications that can increase their risk of falling.
It's important to review all of them—including the over-the-counter ones—with their doctor.
"A lot of people take, for instance, Tylenol PM, and that has Benadryl in it," says Kathy. "In the older population, it can increase the risk of falls."
Exercise is the only thing that has been proven to prevent falls.
Encourage your family member to try swimming or a group class, such as tai chi, to help improve balance and feel stronger.