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Barbara Garwood: A caregiver’s life

A fall can be dangerous for an older adult

We’ve all seen the commercial. An elderly woman is on the floor in a panic. “Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” While the commercial has become quite clichéd, the reality is that a fall can be life-changing, even deadly, for an older adult.

According to the National Council on Aging, one-third of Americans age 65 and over fall each year, and falls are the leading cause of fatal injury among older adults. Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall, and every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall.

Since most falls (over half) occur at home, simple fixes are within your power to prevent devastating falls. Here are recommendations to make you and your home safer.

• Throw rugs are called that for a reason. They will throw you down! Either get rid of them or secure them to the floor with double-sided tape.

• Stairways should be well-lit (nightlight!) and, if they are wooden, have tread to provide traction.

• Hard surfaces are slippery when wet. Use a gripper mat in the shower, and install grab bars to help with getting in and out of the tub safely. Watch for spills in the kitchen and bath.

• Step stools – stay off of them! And don’t even think about getting on a ladder. Ask for help to arrange your cabinets so that the items you need are accessible to you without having to climb.

• Keep a grabber handy. Use it to reach what you need instead of climbing, bending or stooping.

• Let there be light! Keep bathrooms, hallways, and stairs well lit. Keep a flashlight at your bedside in case the power goes out.

• Handrails are imperative, inside and out. Make sure that handrails are present and in good repair. A loose rail may be more dangerous than not having one at all.

• Are steps marked so that you can tell where the edge of the step is and where the bottom step is? If not, consider purchasing strips with traction and a yellow edge from a hardware store. Easy to install and greatly increase safe navigation.

• Take care of cords that may drape into your walking path. Use extension cords if necessary to get cords out of the way.

• Remove trip hazards. Ottomans, rocking chairs, stacks of books or magazines, etc. can create an obstacle course. Walk through your home to see what your traffic pattern is. Make sure it is unobstructed.

• Keep your phone handy at all times so you don’t have to rush to answer it. Take your time and remember that nothing is worth risking a fall.

• Wear shoes that fit you well, have good gripping soles, and have low heels.

• Build up strength, balance, and flexibility. Yoga is an excellent form of strengthening your core and improving your balance.

• Review your medications. Many can cause dizziness or light-headedness, which can lead to a fall. With your doctor’s guidance, you may be able to adjust the time of day your medication is taken or adjust the dose to minimize side effects.

• Have your vision checked. People with visual impairments are more than twice as likely to fall as those without vision problems. A visit to your optometrist or ophthalmologist may reveal the need for a change in glasses or an underlying condition that could be improved with treatment.

• Consider that you may need to use a cane or walker in order to be steady on your feet. If you feel you may need an assistive device, seek the guidance of a physical therapist to recommend the appropriate device and instruct you in its safe use.

Whether you are concerned for yourself or whether you are a caregiver for someone who is at risk for falls, please remember that being proactive will result in prolonged independence and prevent untold suffering. Get started on your checklist and create a safer home.

An excellent reference for additional information on falls prevention is www.ncoa.org/FallsPrevention.

You can email Barbara Garwood at BGarwood@trinityathome.net

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