Every 19 seconds, an American 65 or older dies from something easily preventable:
And in the four minutes or so it takes to read this post, an average of 22 seniors will have fallen and hurt themselves badly enough to be rushed to emergency rooms.
According to a CDC report released this month, deaths from falls increased by 31% over the past decade.
No one’s immune to falls. On May 24 of this year, Charlotte Fox, who’d survived a near-fatal blizzard near the top of Mount Everest and had become the first American woman to successfully scale three 26,247-foot-high mountains, “apparently slipped on the hardwood stairs in her four-story house, fell and suffered fatal injuries,” the Aspen Times reported. “She was 61.”
But while falls can be fatal, they can also be preventable, by addressing their three main causes – environmental, physical, and medical.
Environmentally, you can make your home more fall-proof by removing things that are easy to trip over and adding things that are easy to grab onto:
- Keep shoes, books and papers off the stairs.
- If there are loose or uneven steps, fix them.
- Make sure the carpet is firmly attached to each step, or replace it with non-slip rubber treads for each step.
- Install overhead lights and switches (preferably the kind that glow) for them at the top and bottom of stairways. LED bulbs are good because they last so long. If you prefer incandescents, have a friend or family member change them when they burn out.
- Have someone move pieces of furniture so you can walk through a room without having to navigate your away around them.
- Pick up clutter from the floor, and keep it picked up.
- Either remove throw rugs or use either double-sided tape or nonslip backing to keep them from slipping.
- Coil or tape wires next to the walls, where you can’t trip over them.
- In the kitchen, keep things you use on lower shelves – about waist high.
- To reach higher shelves, always use a sturdy step stool, with a bar to hold onto.
- In the bedroom, keep a lamp close to the bed, within easy reaching distance.
- Put a night light on the way to the bathroom so you can see where you’re going. If it’s the kind that automatically goes on when it’s dark, you’ll never have to remember to turn it on.
- Put nonslip self-stick strips or a rubber mat on the tub or shower floor.
- Fix or replace loose or broken handrails.
- Install handrails on both sides of the stairs, and make sure they’re as long as the staircase.
- Install grab bars inside and next to the tub and next to the toilet.
- Keep the lights on throughout the house. The cost of the extra electricity is nothing compared to the cost of an injury or worse.
Physically, your body changes as you get older, and keeping on top of those changes can help keep you from falling:
- It’s easier to trip and fall over things you can’t see, so have an eye doctor check your vision at least annually.
- If you need new glasses, get them and wear them.
- Have your primary care provider check your feet at least once a year.
- Above all, you or your caregiver should tell your doctor right away if you’ve fallen or are unsteady.
Some medications can increase your chances of falling, while others can help reduce them. As you get older, the way medicines work in your body can change, so:
- Keep an up-to-date list of all your medications, both prescription and over the counter. (It’s also good to put that list on your smartphone.) Discuss the list with your doctor or pharmacist, particularly regarding side effects like dizziness or drowsiness.
- Vitamin D supplements can reduce the risk of falls by improving your bone, muscle and nerve health, so ask your doctor about taking them.
- Exercises that improve your balance and strengthen your legs lower your chances of falling, so ask your doctor about the best exercise program for you.
This is one reason our thorough, three-part assessment is so important. Along with many other things, it covers these fall-related environmental, physical and medical issues: current health status and diagnoses, vision, prescriptions, mobility, and home safety issues. It also gives you an individual, coordinated care plan, specifying what care is needed (and what isn’t), who’s best suited to deliver it, and at what cost.
To learn more, please click here to arrange a free 30-minute consultation.