Carol Cummings, RN, BSN, Expert on Aging Well

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22 August 2016

Falls are a major health concern for seniors. Finding ways to reduce risk will prevent up to 30-40% of falls. In last week’s blog we discussed intrinsic (inside the person) reasons for falls. This week we will look at extrinsic or environmental reasons for falls and give some tips for fall prevention. Since most falls happen at home safety in the environment is critical.  

Every senior should have someone help them conduct a home safety check. Walk through the home inside and out and look for any of the common reasons for falls. Here are a few things to guide you in this process. 

  • Check walking paths to be sure they are free of clutter such as papers, shoes, pet dishes, clothing, electrical cords etc. 
  • Remove throw rugs or, if you must have them, use double sided tape to secure them to the floor.
  • Check stairs for proper handrails.  
  • Check for loose carpet or flooring, have it repaired immediately.
  • Be sure the tub has a non-skid surface and that you have grab bars to hold on to. You may want to consider a hand held shower sprayer and a chair so you can sit down during showers.
  • Be sure there is good lighting in the home including nightlights to light the path to the bathroom. For daytime have light shades or blinds to reduce glare.

In addition to doing a home safety check, below are some things everyone can do to reduce the risk of a fall:

  • Remain physically active. Staying strong through daily activity helps maintain muscles that control balance, keeps you more alert and keeps bones strong. Regular exercise gives you an edge, providing a 25% reduction in your risk of having a fall. Focus on doing things that help balance such as Tai Chi. 
  • Have your vision checked annually. Vision contributes to balance by giving feedback to the brain. Overcoming balance deficits related to low vision can be done, but requires early and careful intervention.
  • Review your medications with your health care provider at each visit. Bring all of your medication bottles with you when you go to your health care provider’s office. Ask if you are taking anything that can lead to falls and discuss alternatives. 
  • Use assistive devices. If you have been advised to use an assistive device, use it and be sure it is in good repair.
  • Wear proper fitting, safe foot wear inside and outside of your home. Do not go barefoot or use slippers.
  • Ask your health care provider to check for postural hypotension. Change positions slowly especially when rising from bed. 

If you or a loved one experiences a fall it is important to work with your health care provider to evaluate all of the reasons for the fall. Then make a plan to minimize the risk factors. Recovery from a fall is not only physical, but psychological. After a fall many people develop a fear of falling which ironically is a risk factor for falls. One of the ways to overcome this is to make changes in the factors that have led to the fall. For more information about falls in older adults visit the Center for Disease Control website. 

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