A bad fall can be life-altering for an older adult – from broken hips that impair mobility to a traumatic brain injury that could cause irreparable damage. Unfortunately, the threat of falls is all too prevalent for older adults, with more than one in three people over 65 in the U.S. suffering a fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What's more, additional research shows the risk of falling only rises for those who are 75 and older.
The good news? There are plenty of things you can do to help prevent an older adult from falling. Removing or lessening any risk factors your aging relative may have for falls – from weak muscles to hazards in their home – can make all the difference in keeping them safe. What follows are some key steps to help your loved one avoid falling.
1. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise!
That is our number one tip. Exercise programs should include balance and strengthening to be effective in reducing falls risk. Balance exercises are those that challenge your balance, like standing on one foot (with a stable surface nearby for support if you need it), stepping outside your base to the sides and back, etc. Strengthening exercises involve using resistance to build muscle bulk and bones and can include use of weights, therapy bands, or your own bodyweight as resistance.
2. Check all Medications
Have your doctor or pharmacist check all of your relative’s medications (including prescription and over-the-counter drugs) for possible interactions and side effects -- like drowsiness, dizziness, and cognitive "slowing" -- that can increase the risk of falls.
3. "Pump the Gas"
If you get up during the night to use the bathroom, sit for a moment or two before standing to give your blood pressure a chance to adjust to your upright position. "Pump the gas": Point and flex your feet a few times to get the blood flowing. This is one of our favorite tips, because most people don't understand why they fall when they get out of bed, and it's a simple strategy that has helped many people. "Pumping the gas" is also useful after sitting for extended periods, like at the movies or dinner (especially in winter, when people tend to be sitting for long holiday meals), or when watching TV.
4. Wear the Right Shoes
It's important to wear shoes both inside and outside of the house. Well-fitting shoes that offer support and have low, flat, wide heels, a back and nonslip soles are safest. It’s a good idea for your parent to have a dedicated indoor pair if he or she doesn’t like to wear outdoor shoes inside. Avoiding long, loose, flowing clothing can also help minimize trips.
5. Beware of Dangers in the Home
For example, remove obstacles such as throw rugs, electrical/phone cords, and clutter, so there's a clear path through every room. In the bathroom, instead of relying on towel rails or toilet roll holders for support -- have grab bars properly installed by a professional or handyman.
More Suggestions to Make Your Home Safer
- Have adequate lighting in each room, and easy-to-reach light switches at the entrance to every room.
- Tack down rugs with double-sided carpet tape to make sure that rugs don't slip and that the corners sit flat.
- Have a sturdy step stool, with a bar and nonskid steps for reaching high places. Better still, move frequently used items to within reach (waist height), and regularly check and change light bulbs, or retrieve seasonal items so your parents don' have to climb up to get things.
Celeste Carlucci and Julie Kardachi, MA, OTR/L contributed to this article.