For an elderly person, a simple fall could lead to major complications. Why are falls, slips, and similar accidents such a significant source of concern for seniors – and what can family caregivers do to make sure their elderly loved ones are able to stay independent and remain safe as they age in the comfort of home?
Falls and Seniors: The Facts and Stats to Know
Every year, millions of seniors experience falls. In fact, as many as one in four seniors suffer from a fall annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to additional research from the CDC, an older adult is treated for a fall in the emergency room roughly every 11 seconds, and falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries and roughly 800,000 hospitalizations per year. They are also the single leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries for adults over 65.
For families and healthcare professionals alike, the costs of keeping up with all of these accidents can be significant. According to data cited by the National Council on Aging (NCOA), the total cost of fall injuries amounted to $50 billion in 2015, with that number projected to rise to nearly $68 billion by 2020.
Why Are Seniors At Risk for Falls?
Older adults are at a more significant risk of falls than younger people – and, for seniors, the aftermath of those falls can be far more severe. As the NCOA puts it:
“Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones, and head injuries. And even falls without a major injury can cause an older adult to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active.”
There are many different health, lifestyle, and environmental factors that can make it more likely for a senior to experience a fall. Over time, physical changes can make it more difficult for seniors to maintain their balance and navigate through their environment, even within the home they’ve lived in for decades. Many older adults lose some of their coordination, balance, and flexibility with time.
Meanwhile, changes to the senses – such as a senior’s ability to see and hear – can make it difficult to stay on top of hazards. Chronic health conditions can also make it more challenging to get around, and make it harder for seniors to complete routine activities of daily living, from climbing stairs to getting into bed. For many older adults, a medicine regimen can also be a risk factor. Many common medications can cause dizziness and sleepiness as side effects, which can make falling more likely.
Now, with all this being said, it’s also important to remember that there are lots of steps seniors and caregivers can take to help minimize the risk of falls. As Dr. Elizabeth Eckstrom, professor and chief of geriatrics at Oregon Health & Science University, put it to NPR:
“A lot of older adults and a lot of physicians think that falling is inevitable as you age, but in reality it’s not.”
How Can Family Caregivers Help Seniors Avoid Falls?
There are many simple steps that family caregivers can take to help an elderly loved one minimize their risk of suffering from a fall. Prevention starts with talking about the risks, and getting everyone on the same page. From there, here are three major steps family caregivers can take to help their elderly family stay safe and avoid falls:
Remove Hazards and Add Safety Features to the Senior’s Home
Roughly 90% of older adults say that they would prefer to remain at home as they grow older. It’s easy to see the appeal of aging in place for seniors. Compared to expensive and disruptive institutional care options, remaining at home is more convenient, more flexible, and more affordable. Even more importantly, for many seniors, aging in place is about holding onto their most treasured memories, maintaining their lifestyle, and securing their independence.
For family caregivers supporting older adults, one of the most important steps you can take on your senior’s behalf is to help them improve their home environment, focusing on comfort and safety. Roughly half of all senior falls occur at home, according to the NCOA – but making a few simple changes can dramatically lower a senior’s risk for experiencing an incident.
Remove obstacles and hazards, like clutter, loose rugs, overloaded shelves, and poor lighting. Talking with your senior to discuss their wants and needs, you may also consider adding some new safety features, including grab bars and railings, non-slip mats, raised seating, and improved lighting throughout the home. Make sure your senior has a clear path to navigate throughout their home, take steps to make sure that all of their most important items are easily accessible, and consider rethinking the home’s layout to better suit your senior loved one – this could mean bringing a laundry room up out of the basement, or switching to a first-floor master bedroom.
Help Your Senior Loved One Get Active
“I always tell people to please not be sedentary to prevent falls,” Dr. Eckstrom explained to NPR. “That’s the worst thing you can do. You’ve got to be out and active…”
Over time, it’s easy for seniors to develop a fear of falling, and to react accordingly, avoiding all physical exertion and movement. In many cases, this can lead to a major quality of life decline for seniors, as they avoid going out and getting active, and may even start to withdraw from family and friends.
In most cases, exercise and activity are some of the very best courses of action for seniors to improve their balance and flexibility, develop strength, and help reduce their risk of suffering from a fall. The Mayo Clinic recommends talking with your senior’s doctor before starting an exercise routine. Once you’ve consulted with an experienced medical professional, the clinic notes:
“He or she may recommend carefully monitored exercise programs or refer you to a physical therapist. The physical therapist can create a custom exercise program aimed at improving your balance, flexibility, muscle strength and gait…With your doctor’s OK, consider activities such as walking, water workouts or tai chi — a gentle exercise that involves slow and graceful dance-like movements. Such activities reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination and flexibility.”
Get the Right Gear and Equipment
Most of us already have experience dressing and equipping for prevention, even if we may not know it. Think, for example, about how you’d prepare before going out in a sweltering, sunny heatwave, or before embarking into a dark, frigid winter night. You’d think carefully about your choice of clothing, prepare yourself physically, and bring along supplies, like extra water or sunscreen.
For many older adults, taking similar precautions can make it easier to avoid the threat of serious falls, whether going out or staying at home. For instance, the Mayo Clinic recommends wearing “properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles,” which can help minimize the risk of falls while also helping to reduce joint pain. Similarly, many seniors may benefit from having assistive devices, such as a walker or a cane. Medical alert alarms and bracelets can also help seniors quickly notify public safety professionals in the event of a fall or accident. Make sure your senior loved one regularly goes in for vision and hearing tests, to ensure that any eyeglasses or hearing aids they use are up to date.
How a Senior Companion Can Help
Non-medical home care provided by an experienced senior companion is one way to help your loved one age in place, allowing them to get the attention, support, and care they need in the comfort and security of their own home.
A senior companion is available on a full- or part-time basis to help empower your loved one to live life to the fullest, while receiving the personalized assistance they need to live independently. A senior companion can provide physical support to your senior loved one, helping them navigate their home, go out and enjoy their community, or start their new fitness regimen with ease. Your senior companion can be an extra set of hands when you need a break, and a trusted resource as you monitor your senior loved one’s health and well-being over time. In addition to providing assistance with routine ADLs, a companion can help a senior with a variety of everyday tasks, including:
- Using the bathroom
- Playing games, sharing meals, and being social
- Meal preparation and cooking
- Laundry services
- Light housekeeping
- Running errands
- Driving and transportation services for events, social gatherings, appointments, day trips, and more
About Companions for Seniors
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors maintain a higher quality of life by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle in the comfort and safety of home. Our aim is to help seniors live independently, connect them with their community, and nurture meaningful relationships.
Here at Companions for Seniors, providing exceptional care for the elderly is our passion. If you have any questions or want to talk about starting with home care for your family, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re always here, and happy to help guide you in the right direction.
Locally owned and operated in Chicago, Illinois, we offer a wide variety of full- and part-time services designed to make life more convenient for your senior loved ones, and for you.
Getting started, we can provide a free in-home assessment for your loved one, and help develop a unique and personalized care plan tailored to your aging loved one’s needs. As the senior’s needs change with time, so will our plan of care. In most cases we can be up and running in just a few days, sparing you from the laborious application process, hidden fees, and extensive paperwork attached to assisted living facilities.
Curious about what sets Companions for Seniors apart? Want to talk over any aspect of home care? We’d love to keep the conversation going. Get in touch online or give us a call at 866-910-9020 today to get started.