Falling is a special risk for older adults, owing to increasing problems with vision and mobility. Older adults may also have the added burden of problems with depth perception and judgment, and they may shuffle their feet as their brain and body begin to have trouble coordinating signals.
The following three overlooked situations often contribute to falling:
Fall Cause #1: The wrong shoes
Just as you check your car tires, it's important to check the treads of the shoes worn by a person with dementia. The safest shoes have rough, not smooth, soles that get better traction on surfaces such as linoleum. Ask a shoe repair shop to add traction strips to smooth-soled favorites. Just be careful not to err in the direction of heavy lug soles as seen on certain hiking boots or walking shoes. Treads that are too big and deep get caught on things and can cause tripping.
Fall Cause #2: Pets
They're cute, they're friendly -- and, often, they're underfoot. Small animals may not be seen by someone with less-than-perfect vision. Active animals may dart in the path of a walker with slowed reaction time. And pets tend to age along with their owners, sometimes choosing to snooze literally under the person's foot.
Animals make terrific social companions and are worth encouraging, so long as you can monitor them. It may be necessary to remove a pet from a loved one's area at certain times of the day, or to watch the situation and issue verbal warnings when your loved one is rising from a chair. Make sure long leashes are detached after walks and not left trailing. Also take care to keep a pet's toys or chew bones out of pathways around the house.
Fall Cause #3: Medications
All drugs have side effects, but some are linked more strongly to falls than others. Common culprits in older adults: drugs containing sedatives and benzodiazepines (Ativan, Xanax), as well as antidepressants. Over-the-counter sleep aids, cough and cold medications, and allergy pills can also cause the disorientation and balance problems that raise the risk of falls. Taking four or more different drugs is itself a risk factor for falls. It's smart to have one's complete list of meds reviewed annually by a doctor so that unnecessary or problematic drugs can be changed or stopped.