It happens in the blink of an eye.
And before you know it, you’re part of the club to which nobody wants to belong: someone who’s suffered a fall.
At Care Resources, Physical Therapist Steve Vanderkamp knows only too well how quick and dangerous it can be for older adults living in their homes to incur falls, some of which land people in the hospital – or worse.
“It happens more often than people think, or would like,” he says, noting that people 55 years and older especially are more likely to suffer a fall because their capacities are diminishing – vision, reaction time, strength, flexibility and cognition.
Data from multiple sources confirms one in five falls results in a serious injury, and that yearly, some three million older adults visit U.S. emergency rooms to be treated for falls. More than 75% of falls occur at or close to home, but according to Vanderkamp, some of those can be avoided by taking preventive measures.
What follows are considerations he says can make all the difference:
Make the light right. Too many older adults don’t have adequate lighting in place, especially at night, when they’re prone to visit the bathroom. As an inexpensive safety measure, leave a light on, or use on a night light or motion-sensor light. Also, don’t travel dark areas where you might trip on clutter – books, magazines, toys, trash – where a well-placed light might otherwise illuminate.
Clear pathways. Again, rid pathways of clutter. Avoid decorating with throw rugs, which are likely to bunch up and cause a trip. And by all means, don’t lay electrical cords across travel areas. Instead, route cords behind furniture and secure them along walls.
Add safety measures to stairs and steps. Don’t skimp on strong stair railings, wherever you have steps. To differentiate stairs from landings, put some strong, brightly colored tape at those transitions.
Be mindful of beds and baths, too. Consider grab bars in shower and tub areas, and next to toilets. Invest in a bathtub bench that extends over the edge of the tub and onto the adjacent floor, so you can sit and pivot out of the tub. Using a hand-held shower head can make it easier to stay seated while showering. Resort to a non-skid rug to soak up water as you exit the tub or shower.
In the bedroom, keep a lamp handy next to your bed. And even though those satin sheets and sleepwear might feel nice, they can be slippery and contribute to a fall while attempting to stand.
Use walking aids. If you have poor balance, don’t be too proud to use a cane or walker, and keep it handy. “I talk to some people until I’m blue in the face about the need for them to use their walker,” Vanderkamp says. People often resort to risky furniture or “wall walking,” placing their hands there to assist in locomotion.
It’s also a good idea to assess your entire property – what’s risky in the garage or other outbuildings, as well as sidewalks, decks and anywhere else you walk. During winter, take extra precautions to keep walkways clear and dry of ice and snow.
As for ladders and step stools, use with extreme caution. Where you have cupboards, arrange it so items you use most often are between hip level and eye level, reducing your need to bend down or elevate yourself.
Assistance with fall prevention is a service provided by Care Resources as a Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, which is funded by Medicare and Medicaid. If you’re worried about you or a loved one falling, call Care Resources at 616.913.2006 or visit CareResources.org to learn more.
Last updated 08.31.2023 I H5610_WEB