Many of us watch shows like America’s Funniest Videos and laugh when people are tripping, slipping and falling all over the place. Though this is certainly entertaining, in real life, falls are no laughing matter.
For people of any age, falls can have devastating consequences to life and limb. For the elderly, falls pose more frequent and serious threats.
Approximately one-third of adults over 65 fall at least once a year. From these falls, half result in injuries such as sprains, strains and fractures.
Many of these injuries from falls can result in hospitalization, admissions to long term care facilities and use of outpatient and home care services.
Fall prevention is a major initiative for seniors in Canada, and around the globe for that matter. Hospitals, care facilities and home care organizations take fall prevention very seriously, by assessing the fall risk of their patients and clients.
There is a bright side to all of this: most falls can be prevented. Here are some tips on how.
First, there are many environmental factors that need to be considered at work, home and play.
Tripping hazards such as throw rugs, loose cords, pets and clutter in a home can be risks. Simply removing these hazards can go a long way to prevent falls.
Next, the bathroom poses several risks, including slippery surfaces in showers and tubs. Having non-slip surfaces and properly mounted grab bars in the bathroom can certainly reduce some of these risks.
(Sometimes people rely on towel racks for support as they get in and out of the shower or bath, with disastrous consequences).
Stairs in the home are a great source of exercise for many of us, but can also be a hazard for some.
Handrails on stairs can be a fairly simple addition to help increase safety and reduce the chance of a tumble or slip. Don’t forget that treads and carpets on stairs needs to be securely fastened.
Slippery surfaces, both indoors and outdoors, are also hazards. You can reduce these by removing ice or water in pathways, and considering gripping footwear.
Some seniors may even want to add specialized grips to outdoor shoes, but some models of these can pose risks on the hard tiles of indoor spaces such as shopping malls. So take care choosing the right ones for the habits of the person who will be wearing them.
Thinking about homes again, it is also important to ensure proper and adequate lighting. For example, it is not uncommon for people of any age not to turn on lights at night and to trip on the way to the bathroom.
Many external factors such as these can be adjusted, but there are internal factors that can lead to higher risk of falls as well. Decreased strength, flexibility, balance and coordination can contribute to and sometimes cause falls.
Becoming older does not necessarily mean that that you are weaker and more unsteady, but it is more common to have losses in these areas as we age.
People with conditions that cause dizziness and lightheadedness, or who are taking medications with these side effects should be wary of the higher risk of falls.
Exercise is essential, especially as we age. Going to the gym, regular walking programs, dance and tai chi are examples of some popular ways to exercise.
Physiotherapists can assist in designing specific exercise programs to improve balance strength, flexibility and coordination, and thereby decrease the risk of falls. Participating in activity can help prevent falls, but can also be fun and social.