Preventing Falls in the Elderly: A Caregiver’s Guide

fall2After my mother tripped in her kitchen on her Crocs and broke her nose, split her lip, and badly bruised her face, she started using a walker and stopped driving. She went, as my daughter so astutely observed, “from a fun Nana to a little old lady in a rocking chair.” What we didn’t know before the fall is that, “many people who fall…become afraid of falling. This fear may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities.”1

According to the Center for Disease Control, common causes of falls include:

  • lower body weakness
  • Vitamin D deficiency (that is, not enough vitamin D in your system)
  • balance issue
  • medications
  • vision problems
  • the wrong footwear
  • and home hazards like throw rugs, stairs without balances, and uneven floors.

Here’s what you, the caregiver, can do to lessen the chance the person you care for will fall.

  • Do a sweep of your parents’ home. Are there items they could trip over including clutter, throw rugs, bath mats, and bedding that hangs to the floor? Do they have stair railings in place?
  • Educate family members with small children and pets about the danger of falls and encourage them to pick up toys and keep the floors clear when they visit.
  • Assess the lighting in their home during the day, at twilight and at night. Add brighter bulbs if necessary.
  • Call the local center on aging for a retrofit referral. They can probably recommend someone who will come to the home and suggest (and maybe even install) the best places for grab bars (like the shower and near the toilet) and nonskid adhesives.
  • Consider installing a higher toilet seat.
  • Ask your parents’ doctor(s) about the medicines they take. Do any of them affect balance or blood pressure?
  • Make sure their eye prescriptions are current.
  • Encourage your parents to exercise, especially strength training, and to wear shoes with nonskid soles. Check their slippers which can be slippery (pardon the pin).
  • Place flashlights near their beds, their favorite chair, in the medicine cabinet, and in the kitchen so in the event of a power outage they have some light.
  • Place night lights in the bathroom and hallways.
  • Move dishes, food, cleaning supplies, towels, clothes, etc. to lower shelves if needed. You don’t want your parents reaching or climbing just so they can make dinner.

1Vellas BJ, Wayne SJ, Romero LJ, Baumgartner RN, Garry PJ. Fear of falling and restriction of mobility in elderly fallers. Age and Ageing 1997;26:189–193.

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