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Trip and Fall Prevention

Trips and falls are the most common kinds of accidents in the home, and they can have devastating consequences, particularly for the elderly. You can reduce your parents’ risk for falling by addressing hazards in their home, as well as any medical risk factors they might have. These simple tips can help prevent falls to keep your parents safe at home.

Risk Factors at Home

Assess your home environment and remove safety hazards:

Clear paths

Take a look at each room in your mom or dad’s home and arrange furniture to create an unobstructed route around and through the room.

Eliminate clutter

Remove stray objects that can cause trips and falls, such as shoes, books, and laundry baskets. A good rule of thumb? If something doesn’t need to be there, remove it. Move electrical wires out of walkways or tape them down. (Tip: Do not hide them under rugs! This is a fire hazard.)

Install proper lighting

Be sure stairways are well lit and use nightlights in hallways, the bedroom, and the bathroom. If an outlet isn’t available, use battery-powered push-lights. Remember, too, the type of lighting is important—fluorescent, halogen, and overhead lighting can be too bright for the elderly; use a table lamp when possible.

Maintain equipment

Make sure your loved one always uses his or her walker, cane, or other assistive devices. (Tip: If your loved one’s home has stairs, keep one on each level.) If you use a cane or a walker, make sure that the rubber tips are intact. Worn-out tips can decrease safety and reliability of the device and even cause a fall. New rubber tips can be found at your local surgical supply store or drugstore.

Ensure balance and stability

Install grab bars wherever extra support might be needed, such as in the bathroom and the shower. (Remember: a towel bar isn’t designed to support body weight.) Be sure stairways have sturdy railings.

Medical Factors and Falling

Certain medical conditions and medications can increase your loved one’s risk of falling:

  • Diabetes can cause joint pain, pressure sensitivity in the feet, dizziness, and vision problems.
  • Circulatory diseases, like COPD, CHF, and hypotension (low blood pressure), can cause dizziness and affect balance.
  • Bone and joint conditions, such as osteoporosis and arthritis, can affect balance and mobility.
  • Eye diseases, such as glaucoma and cataracts, interfere with vision and might cause you to trip over something you don’t see.
  • Medications that depress the central nervous system increase the risk of falling. Ones to watch for: pain relievers, heart medications, antidepressants, and seizure medications, as well as over-the-counter sleep aids, allergy medications, and some cold and cough remedies.
  • The number of medications you take also affects your risk. Taking four or more per day increases risk by nearly one-third—and 40 percent of Americans over age 65 take five to nine medications daily.

The good news: You can manage the medical risk factors to stay safe on your feet and avoid injury.

Improve strength, coordination, and mobility

Getting stronger can go a long way toward preventing trips and falls. Healthy seniors who live at home should aim to participate in an exercise program at least twice a week to maintain strength and agility. It’s always wise to get the go-ahead from a doctor before beginning an exercise program, but if you or your loved one has a chronic disease it’s critical to receive physician’s approval first. If you have diabetes, for example, you may have problems with your feet that interfere with balance. Your doctor may recommend that you work with a physical therapist to ensure you’re doing the right exercises for your condition and that you’re doing them the right way to prevent injury.

Wear the right footwear

Also make sure your parent wears proper footwear with rubber soles and a closed back. Avoid ill-fitting shoes, which can increase your chances of falling on uneven or slippery surfaces and decrease your overall stability. If your loved one has trouble bending over to put on shoes, invest in a good-quality shoehorn or reacher to make the task easier. And of course, make sure shoelaces are tied!

Check your vision

See your doctor for a vision assessment every year and pursue treatments that will correct any problems you discover. Poor depth perception can lead to problems navigating uneven or slippery terrain.

Mind your medication

Have your medications reviewed by a medical professional, especially if you are taking psychotropic medications. Always talk to your doctor before you make any changes—and be sure the primary care physician is aware of all the medications you take, including those prescribed by other doctors and any over-the-counter drugs or supplements. This way, any interactions or side effects can be addressed. Be sure that dizziness or a lack of stability is not a potential side effect of the drugs you take.

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