In 2014, the CDC reported that “older Americans experienced 29 million falls causing seven million injuries.” Aging.com reported that older adults are treated in emergency rooms every 11 seconds for an injury related to a fall. Many of these falls could likely be preventable.
Why are Falls More Common as People Age?
As people age, ailments like poor eyesight, fatigue, muscle stiffness, and more can make falls more likely. Additionally, medications can cause side effects like drowsiness and dizziness that can lead to a loss of balance, and assistive devices like canes and walkers can be tripping hazards.
Plus, the fact that older Americans are more likely to have a variety of medications and assistive devices means that they are more likely to spend less time keeping their home safe. They are less likely to be able to adequately maintain their homes, leaving room for things like random objects on the floor, poor lighting, and messes.
Since older bodies are more fragile, these falls can lead to serious head injuries, hip fractures, back and spinal injuries, torn ligaments and muscles, etc. It’s important to get ahead of these concerns in the same way that you would get ahead of disease.
How to Prevent Falls at Home
If you or a senior in your life is at risk of experiencing dangerous falls in the home, there are a few steps you can take today.
- Clean up and eliminate clutter. Pick objects up off the ground, and sell or donate unnecessary objects. Hide any loose wiring.
- Add secure rugs and carpeting to wooden floors. Be sure to include a non-slip matt underneath any rugs.
- Install sturdy handrails on all staircases, if they aren’t there already. Add handrails and grab bars to bathrooms.
- Add as much lighting as you can. If necessary, hire an electrician to wire all lights in a room to one switch and add light switches so that you don’t have to cross a room in the dark to flip the switch.
Aside from maintaining the home, seniors should always wear properly fitting clothes to prevent falls. Avoid pants that are too long, slippery socks and shoes, and baggy items that can get caught on corners.
Consider a new Living Arrangement
If a senior you love has a messy home, it may be time to sit down and have a conversation about how you can work together to prevent falls.
If someone is not able to clean their own house and you are not able to help them, hiring weekly or monthly help to pick things up might be beneficial.
Alternatively, it might be time to talk to your loved one about assisted living. The inability to maintain a home is more dangerous than you may think. It’s not just about preparing meals or administering medicine; it’s also about things like leaky roofs and messy hallways that create huge hazards. Assisted living can prevent falls.
Fall Prevention Exercises
Tripping hazards aside, it’s important to perform certain exercises to improve your flexibility, strength, and balance as you age.
One way to improve balance is to practice yoga. Seniors might benefit from joining a YMCA or another gym that offers yoga classes specifically designed for seniors. Many gyms across the country actually work with Medicare Advantage plans to provide “free” classes and memberships. The memberships are “free” because they are included in the Medicare Advantage premium, which costs only an average of $23/month in 2020.
Medical Alert Devices
Even if you can’t completely prevent falls, you can at least have a plan for when they happen.
Remember all those “Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” commercials? Those medical alert devices can be a huge asset for seniors who live alone or spend large portions of the day alone.
There are actually quite a few different types on the market, too. You can get a device that you wear on your neck, a device that sits on your coffee table, or even an app for your phone. These devices can range in price from $25-$50 per month but may be well worth the spend for your peace of mind.
Another option is to invest in a smartwatch, like an Apple Watch. In fact, Apple Watch can detect falls, abnormal heartbeats, and more, and send notifications to the proper authorities. Generally, you have a minute to deactivate the alert in case it goes off by mistake. The latest Apple Watch starts off at $399.
Thankfully, smartphones can be just as useful if a senior carries it on them at all times and knows how to dial for help quickly. If a medical alert device is out of your budget, encourage the seniors in your life to keep their phone in their pocket or nearby at all times in case of an emergency.
Anastasia is the Senior Content Manager at MedicarePlanFinder.com, an educational resource for Medicare beneficiaries. When she’s not writing, she’s probably spending time with her two cats and her two dogs or practicing music.
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