Sometimes, a fall is inevitable for an older loved one. They simply fall off balance, or the toll of the years or past corrective surgeries puts them in a situation they can’t easily escape from.
According to an NCBI study, approximately one-third of adults aged 65 or older fall every year – and only about half of those falls can be attributed to “environmental” factors – something out of place about the environment that directly caused the fall.
However, despite the fact that a fall can sometimes be unavoidable, it’s extremely important that you minimize the risks of your loved one falling. Why?
Simple. While around half of all falls could be attributed to environmental factors for the first fall, this percentage decreases the more your loved one falls. Simply put, If your loved one has fallen more than two or three times within a year, their risk of falling (even without external environmental factors) increases massively.
Therefore, you should do everything in your power to postpone falls – and since environmental factors are the most easily preventable, that’s where we’ll start – by securing your loved one’s environment.
1. The Bathroom
It’s probably not a shock that the bathroom is the number one place where environmental falls occur – but you may be surprised at the numbers. While the shower and bath is often thought of as the most dangerous area for the elderly, toilet use actually contributes to more falls.
The primary reason for this is frequency of use. Pretty much everyone uses the toilet more than they use the shower – and this is especially true of elderly folks, who often suffer frequent urination problems.
So while shower safety is very important (Grab bars, non-slip mats on the floors inside and outside, easy-to-reach bathroom products, and shower stools are some of the best options to secure your shower) you shouldn’t neglect the rest of the bathroom. Consider a raised toilet seat or toilet grab bars to secure the environment, and make sure toilet paper is available without reaching.
Ensure the entire bathroom is safe, secure, and protected. It will give both you and your loved one peace of mind.
2. The Kitchen
The kitchen isn’t always a problem – if your loved one isn’t using the kitchen anymore, most risks are mitigated completely – but if your loved one still typically cooks and cleans, the kitchen can be a big risk factor.
The biggest risks primarily come from food storage and utensil storage – pantries and cabinets aren’t designed with the elderly in mind, and often require reaching. And for smaller folks, this can mean using a stepstool or other device to elevate themselves, which increases the risk of a fall drastically.
The best thing you can do to here is to reorganize. You want your loved one to maintain their standard of living, so help them by making common food items easy to reach, and moving pots, pans, and other items to easily-accessible areas – no reaching required.
It may take a bit of getting used to, but having a hard time finding your favorite skillet is much better than taking a tumble from a stepstool.
3. The Bedroom
The risk of falling in the bedroom is huge, and almost always related to two factors – weariness and trouble getting in and out of bed.
These two factors complement each other – grogginess is normal in the morning, and weariness is normal when you’re trying to go to bed. Combine this with the sometimes-awkward motion of climbing into a bed (especially one not built for an elderly person) and you’ve got trouble.
This risk is exacerbated by the risk of head injury – beds are typically built out of heavy woods and metals that can have sharp edges and cause traumatic injury if bedposts or the body of a bed frame is hit on the way down.
Beyond purchasing a lower, easier-to-access bed specifically for your loved one (which can be expensive and uncomfortable), you can buy bed rails – highly recommended, if you’re concerned about safety – and bed steps, which often integrate a small railing into their design, and allow your loved one to get closer to a high bed which might be troublesome to get into otherwise.
Prevention is Key!
While falls are a problem that only get worse later in life, it’s entirely possible to avoid them for a very long time – sometimes altogether, with the right safety precautions.
Remember, the risk of falls only gets worse the more your loved one falls. It’s important to secure your environment as soon as possible, giving them the tools they need to stay safe, and maintain autonomy as much as they can. And until next time, happy caregiving.