In a couple of weeks, we will celebrate the first day of fall — and we celebrate September as Falls Prevention Awareness Month.
Do I really mean celebrate? Perhaps “observe” or “commemorate” would be more fitting when it comes to raising awareness of falls prevention. But yes, I do mean celebrate. Do you remember the excitement and energy in the air when you baby-proofed your home? There was no feeling of impending doom, only an affirmation of protection for the future and the security of our loved ones. In Arizona, the fall season feels like a time of renewal. It is the perfect time to renew our commitment to the safety of our aging seniors.
Falling among older adults is a serious public health problem. The risk of hurting oneself when falling increases with age, as reflexes slow, diminishing a person’s ability to protect oneself. Bones are more brittle, making older adults more susceptible to breaking a wrist or even a hip. Unlike illnesses and diseases taking lives among elderly people, falling is completely preventable.
In 2014, the number of deaths from trips and falls almost equaled the number of deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents. The latest data show us that 75% of all emergency room or urgent care visits for people 65 and older are the result of falls. The fact is, many of these trips and falls are caused by preventable circumstances. Falls are the leading cause of death due to injury among seniors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elders have a one in three chance of experiencing a fall annually. Over 30,000 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries in 2015. More than 2.8 million seniors were treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.
Factors that contribute to falls include improper eyewear, such as wearing sunglasses indoors or inadvertently keeping readers on when walking. Additionally, remind our seniors about getting yearly eye exams and updating their glasses if need be.
Dizziness caused by medication can lead to falls. When filling prescriptions, make sure to ask the pharmacist whether the medicine can affect your balance. And remember, medication not only includes prescription medicines, but also herbal, natural and over-the-counter remedies such as aspirin or antihistamines. Seniors can request a “brown bag check-up,” gathering all their current medications and over-the-counter products into a brown bag and showing them to the doctor or pharmacist so they can identify potential problems.
Lastly, we need our older adults to be mindful of how alcohol interacts with the medications that they are taking.
Contrary to popular belief, falls are not a natural part of aging. All of us have the ability to reduce the risk of falls in our aging loved ones’ homes and when hosting our seniors for a prolonged stay, or even an afternoon visit. Common causes for falls include slippery or wet surfaces, poor lighting, uneven floor surfaces, clutter in pathways and thick-soled or loose shoes. Rugs are the leading causes of falls, and ideally should be removed. Most falls in the home occur when going up or down stairs and in and out of the tub or shower. It is imperative that stairways have handrails that extend beyond the first and last step. Increasing the light by adding more overhead lighting fixtures or wall sconces can prevent falls. If lamps are added, cord management is essential.
Here is a list of things you can buy for less than $20 that will lower risk of a fall:
- Grab bars for shower or tub
- Mat for shower or tub
- Non-slip bathtub strips
- Velcro strips to secure electrical cords
- Nonslip safety grip pad for rugs
- Motion sensor night light
- Slip-resistant socks
- Nonslip tape (skid tape) for stairs
- Raised toilet seat
- Wheelchair seat belt
When hosting your aging loved one for an overnight or long stay you may need to ensure your guest room is adaptable to the needs of your guest. Place night tables and shelves in places that are easily accessible. Offer to help your loved one unpack, storing clothing, medication and necessities within reach. Make sure the outside of your home is well-lit and there are no hazards blocking the entranceway to your home. Secure overexcited or anxious pets to prevent them from jumping or becoming a tripping hazard.
Celebrating Falls Prevention Awareness Month is an extension of embracing aging and accepting the new normal. Notching those milestone birthdays is very much a privilege. Aging gracefully is acknowledging that you may need a new sexy walker, a cool pair of nonslip shoes or a “Better Homes and Gardens” grab bar for your bathroom. So, hold on to your new prop and whistle your favorite tune to symbolically represent the spring in your step. JN
Bob Roth is the managing partner of Cypress HomeCare Solutions.