Taking steps to prevent falls an important way to protect older Americans

Taking steps to prevent falls an important way to protect older Americans

Taking steps to prevent falls in the home can be an important way to protect the safety of older Americans.

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related visits to the emergency room in the United States and the primary cause of accidental death in people over age 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, each year more than one-third of older adults experience a fall, and 20 percent to 30 percent of those falls result in moderate to severe injuries such as hip fractures or head injuries.

The risk for death, serious injury and disability from falls increases as one ages, and falls can have an especially significant impact on individuals who are already in need of assistance. Other risk factors include such pre-existing conditions as osteoporosis, glaucoma, cataracts and eye disease, plus issues related to muscle strength, balance and gait.

Medications used to treat both acute and chronic health problems also can sometimes increase a person’s risk for falling, as can consuming alcohol.

A number of steps can be taken to help reduce a family member’s risk of falls. These include ensuring he or she:

• Changes positions slowly to prevent falls related to drops in blood pressure. When first getting up in the morning, it is wise to sit at the edge of the bed for a short time before standing.

• Wears supportive, low-heeled, rubber-soled shoes.

• Exercises caution when walking on thick-pile carpets.

• Does not wear smooth-soled slippers or socks on such smooth floors as wood or linoleum.

• Uses caution when walking outdoors, especially when it is wet or icy.

• Limits intake of alcohol.

• Does not wear glasses that are meant for reading when performing activities other than reading.

• Takes medications as prescribed and reports any apparent side effects.

It’s also important to look at the living environment and potential changes that can reduce the risk of falls. Try these tips:

• Ensure that all rooms are well and evenly lit.

• Avoid very bright lights that could increase glare.

• Use night-lights in halls and bathrooms.

• Have a light or flashlight by the bedside that your loved one can use if he or she needs to get up during the night.

• Be sure that lighting is bright enough in hallways, stairways and bathrooms.

• Keep walkways clear of electrical cords and telephone wires.

• Arrange furniture so it does not interfere with walking.

• Check to see if thresholds present a tripping risk. Widen doorways, if possible.

• Make sure that furniture is not too low to the floor or too high to allow your family member to get up from or onto without difficulty.

• Remove throw rugs and secure carpets.

• Install handrails on both sides of stairways, if possible.

• Mark the first and last stair with a strip of bright paint or colored adhesive tape made specifically for stair steps.

• Place nonskid strips in the tub or shower.

• Install grab bars in the tub or shower and next to the toilet.

• Install an elevated seat on the toilet if it is too low and your loved one has difficulty getting on and off.