Every 11 seconds, an older American will end up at a hospital emergency room due to a fall. And every 19 minutes, an older adult over 65 will die after sustaining a fall, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA).
As we approach our retirement years, some of us will face the likelihood of caring for a parent, a grandparent, or a spouse. Being a family caregiver in our mid-sixties may also increase our chances of becoming a fall statistic.
If you are caring for an elderly parent who may be at risk for a fall, speak with his or her physician and share your concerns. Also, consult with a licensed occupational therapist who can assess your parent’s ability to get around. An occupational therapist can also evaluate the home and recommend changes or modifications to better meet individual needs.
Making Changes in the Home Environment
As a family caregiver, you can assist in making changes in the home to reduce the odds of sustaining a fall, which could negatively impact not only quality of life but also future independence. The following are some tips for preventing slips, trips, and falls in the home:
Entryways, steps, and staircase
Add non-skid surface coating on the floor and on the steps in entry areas of the home. Inquire at your local home improvement store or licensed home renovators about which surface coating options are best to help reduce slips and falls. Check the condition of handrails, stair posts, and all railings to make sure they are secure.
Install safety grab bars in the tub area, shower stalls, and on walls adjacent to toilets. Remove slippery or non-grip mats from bathroom floors. Consider updating the shower stall entrance to make it wheelchair accessible. Install a sturdy transfer seat or bench in the shower stall. For more information about how to remodel the bathroom to prevent slip and falls, please review the Aging-In-Place Remodeling Checklist, provided by the National Association of Home Builders.
Always remove clutter from hallways to ensure clear passage and to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs. Also, eliminate hallway runners, which could be a trip hazard. Add extra lighting to help delineate walk areas. Consider adding emergency power lights and motion lights for better guidance at night.
Remove floor clutter and excess furniture so there is ample space to move around to and from the bed. Having the bed too high makes it difficult to get out of and could easily lead to a fall; lower the bed so when someone sits on the edge he or she can place both feet flat on the floor.
A fall prevention mat may be added to help reduce injuries, but please be careful when selecting bedroom fall mats. According to a study published by the Journal of Patient Safety, some fall mats with beveled edges could actually increase the risk of a patient tripping. Always consult with your doctor about the pros and cons of bedside fall mats and seek the advice and guidance of a licensed occupational therapist. For more information, please visit the American Occupational Therapy Association’s website.
Identifying Health Concerns
Making changes to the home environment not only reduces the risk of injury but also enables family caregivers to identify health risks that might increase the likelihood of a fall. The following are some steps that family caregivers can take to determine potential risks:
Stay current with vision exams
Poor vision can affect depth perception and impact mobility. If a loved one still squints while wearing prescription glasses, it could signal that they need to have their vision examined again. Make sure to have regular vision screenings and never delay visiting an eye specialist when an older parent has redness or discomfort in one or both eyes.
Request a fall risk assessment
If you or a loved one is afraid of falling, or have recently sustained a fall, please inform your primary care physician. Consider making an appointment for a fall risk assessment, which will help you identify and reduce risk factors. Ask the physician to review medical conditions that may affect gait and balance.
Review medications with physician
Review medications with your doctor and discuss potential side-effects or possible drug interactions that increase dizziness and lightheadedness.
Check condition of feet
If you see signs of redness or notice foot sores that are not healing, ask your doctor to examine the feet. Also check the condition of shoes; if they are uncomfortable, they need to be replaced. Pay attention if an older adult is struggling or grimacing while walking. Some patients with dementia may not always be able to express discomfort or pain; be alert to behavioral signs, facial expressions, and sounds.
Including Daily Exercise to Bolster Health and Reduce Risks
Including a daily exercise program can help to build muscle strength, balance, and flexibility in the person under your care. Staying physically active, strengthening muscles, and improving balance and flexibility are also vital to reduce the risk of falls. Encourage older adults to take part in guided exercise activities with a licensed professional. Before starting an exercise program, always talk with a physician about your loved one’s exercise goals and fall prevention strategies. Make sure the doctor approves of new exercise routines.
Provide dependable companionship and encourage participation by maintaining a consistent exercise schedule. If you cannot accompany a loved one on guided exercise routines, consider adding a service provided by a licensed home care health agency.
Keep lines of communication open and visit often. Human contact provides an opportunity to view and identify physical and emotional changes. Visiting an older parent also gives us insight into the condition of the home and possible fall risks that could impact our parent’s quality of life and long-term independence.
Should you or a family member need assistance in caring for a loved one, and would like to inquire about home health care services, call Senior Helpers Orlando at 321-422-2869. We will be glad to schedule a meeting at your earliest convenience. Senior Helpers Orlando provides Alzheimer’s care and home health care services in the counties of Orange, Osceola and Seminole.
Ana P. DeLane
Senior Helpers Orlando Team Member
Resources and references:
Fall Prevention: Fact Sheet; retrieved Sept. 27, 2017,National Council on Aging (NCOA); retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/resources/falls-prevention-fact-sheet/
Fall Prevention Facts; retrieved Sept. 27, 2017, from https://www.ncoa.org/news/resources-for-reporters/get-the-facts/falls-prevention-facts/
What Can Occupational Therapy Do For You? Patients and Clients; The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA); retrieved Sept. 28, 2017, from https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Patients-Clients.aspx
Aging-in-Place Remodeling Checklist; National Association of Home Builders (NAHB); retrieved Sept. 28, 2017, from https://www.nahb.org/en/learn/designations/certified-aging-in-place-specialist/related-resources/aging-in-place-remodeling-checklist.aspx
The Hazards of Using Floor Mats as a Fall Protection Device at the Bedside; Journal of Patient Safety, June, 2010; retrieved Sept. 28, 2017, from http://journals.lww.com/journalpatientsafety/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2010&issue=06000&article=00002&type=abstract
Tips for Living Life to Its Fullest; Helping Your Older Parent Remain At Home; The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.; retrieved September 28, 2017, from https://www.aota.org/~/media/Corporate/Files/AboutOT/consumers/Adults/AginginPlace/Helping-Age-in-Place.pdf