Everyone knows the commercials for LifeAlert – “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” – but despite the general public’s awareness of falls and the risks they present in the elderly, many people still don’t know about some of the biggest risk factors that increase the odds of a fall for an aging person.
In this article, we’ll go over some of the most common causes of falls in the elderly, and talk about ways in which they can be minimized to increase the safety and security of a yourself or a loved one who is aging in place.
Dangerous Shoes and Slippers
The elderly often have problems with foot pain and numbness, and these factors can be exacerbated by poor choices of footwear. Those backless slippers that you’ve been wearing for 20 years, for instance, could easily contribute to a fall if you slip and your foot comes out of it, causing you to lose traction.
High heeled shoes and leather shoes are also big risk factors – high heeled shoes increase the amount of force on weaker ankles and tend to put you off balance, and leather shoes generally have very little tread or friction to help them stay in place on wood, cement, or tile floors.
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Stairs are probably the risk factor that most of us are acquainted with – even the healthiest and youngest among us have probably fallen down the stairs at one point or another. But while a 20-year old can fall down a flight of stairs and recover, that fall could be deadly to and elderly person.
If you or your loved one is still capable of walking up and down stairs, staircases should always be brightly lit, and feature a secure handrail, with light switches at both the top and bottom of the stairs. A contrast-colored final step can also be a very good way to increase the safety of stairs – the different color makes it clear that it’s the final step, and increases awareness and safety.
If you or your loved one is not capable of walking up and down stairs safely and easily, a great way to increase safety of the stairs is by using a stair lift – while expensive, these devices ensure easy movement up and down the stairs.
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Surprisingly, upturned and out-of-place rugs make up one of the largest risk factors for environmental falls, according to the NCBI. This is because these upturned and out-of-place rugs are unexpected. When walking through an area you have walked through thousands of times before, it’s unlikely that your or your loved one will think that a rug could be out of place or dangerous – because of this, there is no time to prepare for a fall, and a lack of awareness of a risk of falling in the first place.
The primary way to deal with this problem is by securing rugs. This is especially important if the home mostly has tile or wood flooring which can be slippery – rugs must be secured to the ground with backing pads, or even tape – any method by which the corners of a rug can be attached securely to the ground will work.
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Bedrooms and Beds
Though it may seem strange, getting in and out of bed is one of the riskiest activities you or an aging loved one can take. This is because of two factors – grogginess in the morning, and weariness at night, combined with beds that are unsecured or dangerous.
Most elderly folks don’t purchase new beds just because they’re aging – they keep using the ones that have been in their homes for years. This can lead to problems once getting in and out of bed gets harder – awkward heights and angles can mean, combined with weariness, that getting in and out of bed is no easy task.
The simplest way to secure a bedroom is by adding bedrails and bed steps – bedrails allow a secure object to grip when entering and exiting a bed, and bed steps can help make entering a steep bed easier.
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The bathroom is well-known as an area that poses quite a bit of danger to the elderly, and it’s usually one of the first places augmented with safety devices as loved ones age.
The shower is especially notorious – so most folks add non-slip mats, shower steps, grab bars and shower stools – or in extreme cases, install a walk-in shower or bath with no steps to get in our out, and these are great precautions to take to ensure safety in the shower.
However, the toilet should not be overlooked – it’s actually the cause of more accidental falls than the shower. This is because the toilet is used more than the shower – multiple times a day, and often even more if an elderly person is suffering from frequent urination.
So while shower safety is important, the toilet shouldn’t be overlooked – raised toilet seats, toilet grab bars, and placement of toilet paper and other products within easy reach of the toilet are good precautionary measures to take.
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While there’s no way to absolutely guarantee a home free from hazards, taking the above steps can be a big step towards eliminating environmental problems, and helping you or your loved one experience more autonomy while aging in place, and peace of mind knowing that you’ve taken necessary security precautions.