A Simple Stumble May Signal Problems

By Andrew Schneeloch

Rockland – Dad recently switched medications and starting shuffling more than walking. Last week, he tripped on a bedroom rug but landed on the bed. He was shaken but not injured. Yesterday, Mom tiptoed to reach for baking soda in the kitchen cupboard and slipped, bruising her ribs. You worry about your parents’ safety at home and know it’s time to help prevent falls from happening. But what’s the best approach?

Aging increases the risk of stumbling and sustaining injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one out of three Americans age 65 and older falls each year. Roughly 20 percent of falls cause serious injuries including lacerations, broken bones and head injuries. Annually nationwide, at least 250,000 elderly people are hospitalized because of hip fractures, and more than 95 percent of these broken hips originate from a fall.

Fall-related fractures are more than double for older women than for older men. For the elderly, injuries from a fall often limit mobility and can lead to isolation and depression. A quick stumble can even prove deadly. Weakened balance, vision and physical strength affect an elderly person’s ability to stay on his/her feet, so regular eyesight and overall health exams are essential. Medication reviews by a physician are also crucial since many elders fall because of medication side effects or dosage issues.

Seniors who fall, even if they are not injured, often develop a fear of falling. This fear can keep them from enjoying regular activities, which then reduces mobility and physical fitness. With less muscle home safetytone and confidence, a person’s actual risk of falling increases. Falls also limit older adults from living independently.

The following home safety tips may help:

Bathroom
Common fall hazard: Slippery floor surfaces; towels or slippery rugs on the floor.
Prevention: Lay nonslip mats on the floor and install grab bars in a contrasting color.
Bedroom
Common fall hazard: Poor lighting (especially at night).
Prevention: Ensure a light is within easy reach of the bed, and use nightlights to illuminate the path from the bed to the bathroom.

Hallways
Common fall hazard: Obstacles and electrical cords across pathways.
Prevention: Remove clutter, cords and furnishings so walking areas are clear.

Kitchen
Common fall hazard: Unstable chairs.
Prevention: Use stable, non-wheeled kitchen chairs with armrests to help older adults sit and stand up safely.

Living Room
Common fall hazard: Carpet with upended edges or uneven, worn seams.
Prevention: Tape down upended carpet edges or replace carpet where needed.

Steps
Common fall hazard: Lack of handrail support.
Prevention: Install rounded handrails on both sides of the steps; handrails should extend beyond the top and bottom steps.
In addition to protecting older adults from falls inside their home, it is important to note that slips and trips occur more often on the external premises, especially in inclement weather.
Men tend to fall outdoors more than women, and those seniors who are most active fall more often than those with physical frailties. Nearly half of tumbles outdoors are related to walking, particularly on uneven sidewalks or tripping over curbs.

More than 70 percent of people who fall outside land on a hard surface such as concrete, asphalt or rocks. Fortunately, many falls outside can be prevented through proactive measures including the following:

Stay aware of uneven terrain and slippery surfaces. Watch for holes, tree roots and ice.
Check the height of curbs and steps before stepping up on them or down from them. Curbs with inclines or cutaways for bicycles can be misleading.
Wear correct eyewear when walking. Reading glasses or bifocals can distort the ability to see potential hazards.

If balance is a problem, it is best to use a walker or cane or hold the hands of caregivers when stepping onto curbs or up steps.

To safeguard the outdoor environment around the homes of seniors, install handrails and good lighting on stairs and walkways. Steps and patios need to remain in good shape with no worn-down areas or loose nails. For extra safety and traction, patios and steps can be covered with weatherproof and textured paint.

About The Author
Drew Schneeloch is CEO of Right at Home South Shore. He recommends Right at Home’s Fall Prevention Guide to help family caregivers and seniors identify and avert fall hazards inside and outside the home. The guide was developed with the assistance of Dr. Rein Tideiksaar, a gerontologist, geriatric physician’s assistant and president of FallPrevent.

Right at Home serves the communities of Abington, Braintree, Bridgewater, Carver, Cohasset, Duxbury, East Bridgewater, East Brockton, Hanover, Hanson, Hingham, Holbrook, Hull, Kingston, Marshfield, Middleboro, Milton, Norwell, Pembroke, Plympton, Plymouth, Randolph, Rockland, Scituate, Wareham, Weymouth and Whitman. For more information, you email info@rah-southshore.com or call (781) 681 – 3545.