Making just a few adaptations to minimize the risk of falls can make a big difference.
By Monica Heltemes
+Alzheimer's Reading Room
Fall is now upon us. Not only did we enter into fall a few weeks ago on September 22, it was also Falls Prevention Awareness Day!
You might be surprised to learn that every 15 seconds an older adult is seen in an emergency department for a fall-related injury (National Council on Aging, 2013).
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Monica Heltemes is a practicing occupational therapist and owner of MindStart™. MindStart designs hobby-style items, such as games and puzzles, specifically for persons with memory loss. They keep persons with dementia active, while giving support to caregivers, and are quick and easy to use. Visit MindStart (Activities for Persons with Memory Loss) to learn more.Many patients I would see in occupational therapy treatment after a fall would tell me in retrospect what caused their fall and what they might have done differently to avoid it.
Hindsight is always 20/20! Changes can be made to reduce the risk of falling and most are very easy and inexpensive to do.
Follow these tips below to help keep your loved ones on their feet.
- Assess for tripping hazards in the home, such as:
- Furniture that is positioned too closely together for easy access, especially for the person using a walker
- Throw rugs that slide on the floor or edges of rugs that are curling up
- Clutter on the floor – for example, piles of newspapers or magazines
- Cords that are in walking areas, such as electrical or phone cards
- Floors of tubs and showers become slippery when wet, as does the bathroom floor as entering and exiting. Place non-skid strips or mats to avoid this and also install grab rails into the wall studs. Towel racks should not be used as grab rails – they can pull out of the wall.
- Animals underfoot, such as dogs and cats, are risky. You might consider keeping them out of common areas or other alternatives to minimize the risk.
- Stairwells also become more risky. You might block the entrance of stairs leading to the basement.
- A referral for an occupational therapist can be helpful to identify potential hazards to offer solutions to make it safer.
- Place night lights in the bedroom, bathroom and hallways.
- Place a lamp within reach of the bed for middle-of-the-night needs or consider a touch lamp or motion sensor lamp.
- At dark times of the day, keep the lights on in hallways.\
- Choose shoes that fit snugly on the foot. Shoes that are too big or that are slip-ons with no heels can cause tripping. The same applies for slippers. Shoes with velcro closures can be used if laces are difficult for the person to tie.
- Avoid walking on tile or hardwood floors in stocking feet.
- Ensure that the soles on shoes do not have the treads worn away.
- Inactivity leads to weaker muscles and less flexibility. Both can make a person more likely to fall.
- Walking is a great form of exercise. Consider walking in indoor malls on rainy or winter days.
- Complete leg exercises while standing and holding onto a kitchen counter or from a seated position to keep legs strong. This can be marching in place, squeezing the knees together, and alternating lifting the toes up, then heels up.
- If a person starts to have difficulty getting out of a chair, they may be getting weaker and might benefit from a referral for physical therapy.
- The theme of this year’s fall prevention campaign was Preventing Falls – One Step at a Time.