90% of seniors say they want to age in place, which is possible with the right mix of home modifications and healthy habits. Combine the two, and you have a successful formula for a happy, comfortable, and safe life in the home you love.
The bad news: according to the National Council on Aging, “falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans.”
The good news is that you can reduce the likelihood of a fall with the right approach. The sooner you get started helping your parents prevent falls, the greater your chance of success. Fall interventions will also have other health advantages. Improving strength, balance, endurance, updating prescriptions, and addressing chronic medical conditions are all ways to enhance overall mental and physical health.
The first step to helping your parents is to understand why people fall. Common conditions contribute to an older adult’s risk. As you think about approaching your parents with some of the changes necessary to mitigate their risk, come prepared with reliable information. You may recognize some of the fall causes in your parents’ health or in their home:
Many older adults have vision problems like macular degeneration and glaucoma, making it hard for them to see obstacles or hazards when walking.
Without consistent efforts to improve strength and balance, older adults will become weaker, losing muscle mass, flexibility, and endurance. Balance deteriorates due to inactivity, which may increase the odds of a fall.
Throw rugs, electrical cords, papers, magazines, and other general clutter create safety hazards.
Nighttime is a prime time for falls. Low lighting along the pathway to the bathroom, in particular, can increase risk. Missing bathroom accessibility features like a shower chair or grab bars make it difficult for a weaker person to bathe or use the bathroom safely.
You probably think your parents are managing their medications appropriately because they have assured you they are. Medication mismanagement is a huge problem leading to multiple issues for older adults. Approximately 30 percent of hospital admissions are drug-related. Here are some of the common medication issues that contribute to falls:
This may not seem like a fall risk, but even mild hearing loss can increase falls. According to the American Speech and Language Association, the risk of a fall increases by 140 percent for every 1 decibel of hearing loss. According to the National Institutes for Health, early one in three people between the ages of 64 and 75 have some hearing loss.
If you could swoop into your parent’s home and intervene, that would be ideal. Be mindful that your parents may not be open to your suggestions and could be offended by your recommendations. Be patient and respectful in your approach and share the information you have about fall risk. Consider involving their primary care physician in the discussions. Let’s look at the steps to take to help your parents prevent falls.
Without a complete medical workup, it will be challenging to identify the areas that need improvement. Request a medication review (perhaps eliminating some medications is possible) and a hearing and eye examination. Check for dehydration, a common problem for older adults. Dehydration can lead to low blood pressure and dizziness. If you suspect your parent has cognitive impairment, ask for a mental status exam. Follow up with any recommendations by updating eyeglasses prescriptions and getting hearing aids if necessary.
Gradual increase of activity is critical. The safest way to approach this idea is to ask for a physical therapy evaluation. If your parent doesn’t qualify for home health, schedule a visit with an outpatient clinic. A physical therapist can “start low and go slow” by evaluating your parent’s medical condition and making recommendations to increase balance, strength, and endurance. A healthier, stronger person is less likely to fall, and recovery will be faster if they do.
When should you consider this step? Before your parents need it, which is likely now. Waiting for a fall or some other crisis will leave you scrambling to make accommodations to keep your parents safe. Ruby can assist you with an evaluation of your parent’s home by a certified expert, making recommendations and arranging for the work. At a minimum, think about installing grab bars in the bathroom, a toilet riser, stair rails, and a shower chair with a handheld shower nozzle. Are your parents resistant to these products because of the way they think they’ll look in their space? There are now plenty of beautifully designed grab bars and accessibility products that will blend right in while providing safety.
Adding adequate lighting to the bathroom and throughout the home is a cost efficient and easy update that will greatly improve the safety of your parents’ home.
And lastly, stairs are hazardous, and many older homes are multi-level, requiring some significant renovations to eliminate the use of stairs. While this may be a larger change, Ruby and other home experts can help you with low-cost creative solutions.
Be prepared for a battle on this one. People are very attached to their home environments, and your parents may not even realize they have clutter. Start by making small, achievable suggestions. Recommend getting rid of throw rugs or tacking them down. If eliminating clutter is overwhelming for your parents, offer to help with their supervision. Clear pathways to common areas like the kitchen and bathroom. This is another reason having a Home Safety Assessment may be valuable. The specialist can recommend some amazing storage solutions to help keep their pathways clear. Clutter is likely to return, so this may be an ongoing effort.
The human body is not unlike a house. Both need maintenance, upkeep, and a proactive approach to safety. Talk with your parents about your ideas for improvement. Reduce their risk of falls, and enhance their well being in the process. Give us a call at Ruby for a free 15-minute consultation and speak directly with one of our Aging in Place Specialists as a first step in helping your parents prevent falls.
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