By Richard T. Moore
In summer months, many families visit their aging parents who live independently, often alone. These visits can sometimes cause anxiety for adult children, who become worried about the potential household dangers facing an elderly parent — particularly around falls.
A serious fall can be fatal, but other falls may lead to head injuries or broken hips and extremities that result in the loss of mobility. Falls are a concern for older adults in all types of senior living environments, but can be especially worrisome for seniors living at home alone, perhaps in the same house in which they’ve lived for decades that has stairs, slippery floors or other features that can cause challenges later in life.
Falls prevention education is a top priority for the Massachusetts Assisted Living Association, the “Voice of Assisted Living.” The assisted living residences around the state primarily utilize evidence-based falls prevention programs proven to help keep seniors safe. Here are six tips to help your loved one stay safe by reducing the risk of serious falls.
- Think of falls as preventable
Mindset is key, and while falls can indeed be dangerous, they are often avoidable with proper care. Gently talk to your parent about what they feel they are capable of doing physically and be proactive about safety. Rather than reacting when a fall occurs, help them to actively look for ways to prevent falls.
- Help refresh their environment
As detailed in the fall-prevention program Matter of Balance, seniors can take a number of preventative steps to change their environment to reduce fall risk factors. Offer a day of your visit to help mom or dad rearrange living areas to reduce potential obstacles or organize the kitchen to keep frequently needed items within easy reach.
- Strengthen and condition
One of the most effective and proven ways an older adult can avoid an incident is to make sure their body is well-maintained and that they are stable on their feet. Workshops such as the Otago Exercise Program focus on helping seniors improve their balance and stability and have been shown to reduce falls by over a third. Contact a local YMCA or senior center to learn about gentle exercise classes specifically tailored to older adults, and offer to join your parent for an initial session.
- Mind your surroundings in public
While it is possible to help organize and arrange your parent’s residence in a way that is conducive to reducing falls, public areas present a variety of different and unpredictable conditions that can be potentially dangerous. When in unfamiliar areas or public spaces, help mom or dad make sure to pay special attention to their surroundings and actively look for any potential dangers. In addition, offer to shop with them for a pair of safe and walkable shoes to ensure steady footing, and remind them to wear any prescribed glasses or contact lenses to enable optimum vision.
- Understand the effect of medications
Many seniors don’t realize that certain medications can affect balance. Encourage your parent to talk with their prescribing doctor regarding any medications they may be taking to better understand how these prescriptions affect balance and stability, especially when they might be getting out of bed during the night.
- Know what to do if a fall occurs
Of course, the goal is to fully prevent falls from occurring in the first place, but the reality is that accidents can still happen, regardless of your level of preparedness. Having a plan in place in the event of a fall is important, and can be crucial in reducing recovery time following an injury and minimizing the damage done. Offer to purchase mom or dad a portable phone they can carry when walking between rooms and talk to them about utilizing services such as Life Alert to ensure swift medical attention if needed.
Older adults today strongly value independence and choice in their living environment. By taking steps toward preventing falls, older adults can better maintain an active, dynamic and healthy lifestyle — while also providing their families with peace of mind.
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