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How to Avoid Falls

Falls are a major cause of decreased independence in the aging population.  As people get older, they often experience a reduction in strength and balance, as well as a decrease in bone density, and become more at risk for falls.  When the elderly do suffer an injury, they usually take longer to recuperate.  Many never fully return to their former level of independence, and may end up requiring round-the-clock care from a family member or in a long-term care facility.  And this can set into motion that downward spiral that leads to dementia and death.

Here are some pretty sobering statistics.  More than one in three people over the age of 65 will fall this year.  Two-thirds of these people will fall again within six months.  About 50% of the elderly who experience a fall-related injury will end up being admitted to a long-term care facility.  And, according to one statistic I read a few years ago, over half of all women over the age of 85 who break a hip will be dead within a year.  (This particular fact is especially meaningful for me, as my own mother passed away almost 2 years ago, approximately a year after falling and breaking her hip.)

Thankfully, most falls do not result in serious injury.  But, even in these cases, the psychological impact can be quite strong.  Many of those over the age of 75 voluntarily restrict their activity due to fear of falling.  And this, in addition to the loss of independence that can result from such limitations, this can result to further reduction in strength and balance, and other factors that lead to further complications.  It has been noted that many of these falls happen in the home.  There are a number of things that can be done to make the home safer, and thus reduce the risk of falling.

—  Improve lighting, especially down halls and along stairways.

—  Install hand rails and grab bars, especially in bathrooms.  Railings in stairways are a must.

—  Move items so that they are easier to reach, especially in the kitchen and bathroom.

—  Rugs and slippery floors are a major hazard in the home.  Use non-skid mats under rugs, or attach rugs to the floor with non-skid tape.  (Or, consider getting rid of throw rugs altogether.)  Use non-skid wax.

—  Be sure to level thresholds between doors (either doors to the outside of the house, or inside the house), or provide a ramp.  If a person has to step down or up when entering the house or moving between rooms, that increases the risk of tripping and falling.

—  Use low-pile carpeting.  A rolling walker can get caught up in thick pile, causing the person to trip and fall.

—  Ensure that carpeting and rugs are not worn, so that they become slippery.  Also remove rugs that are torn, as these can cause a person to trip as well.

—  Be sure that the bathroom flooring has a matte finish, so that people do not slip on it.  Consider installing some of the non-skid strips that are made for bathtubs.

—  All rooms in the house should be well-lit.  Install night lights in every room, as people are more prone to falls while moving around the house at night.  Entrances should be especially well-lit.

—  Be sure that there is a place to keep keys.  Put a chair or small table near the door so that purses, out-going mail, and other items that the person will need to take with him as he leaves are readily accessible.  Hurrying about the house trying to locate things, when in a hurry to leave, increases the risk of falling.

—  Place electrical cords out of the path of traffic, preferably along walls and under furniture.  Consider buying commercially-available strips to bind several cords together.

—  Be sure that chairs and couches are safe and secure, and not easily pushed back as someone is sitting down.  They should be at an appropriate height so that it is easy for persons to sit down or stand up.

—  Clear away the clutter.  Be sure there’s nothing laying around the floor that can be tripped over.

—  Keep a lamp or a flashlight within easy reach of your bed, in case you have to get up in the middle of the night.

—  Make sure that there is plenty of room for you to walk around your bed.

—  Have a nightstand beside your bed, where you can keep your telephone, a light, a glass of water, or other things you may want during the night.

—  Keep a sturdy chair with arms in your bedroom, for use while dressing.

—  Be sure that steps and walkways outside the house are in good condition.

—  Have telephones in every room of the house, or carry your cell phone with you.  Keep a list of emergency numbers next to each telephone, and program them into your cell phone.

More useful information about preventing falls can be found here

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