Preventing falls is key to independence for seniors

At Prisma Health Senior Care, our goal is to help frail seniors remain in their own homes and communities and avoid nursing home placement. Unfortunately, a fall can complicate these efforts by leading to serious injury and even death. Over 27,000 people 65 and older die each year as a consequence of a fall.

Falls aren’t an inevitable side effect of aging, though.

“Falls are caused by hazards that are easy to fix, such as poor vision, side effects of certain medications, improper use of assistive devices, poor nutrition and an unsafe home environment,” said Rosie Gomez, RPT, physical therapist at Prisma Health Senior Care.

Jordan Perry works with a program participant.

Their effects, she adds, can be far reaching.

“Falls—with or without injury—carry a heavy quality-of-life impact resulting in the limitation of activities and social interaction, physical decline, depression, social isolation and feelings of helplessness,” stated Gomez,

Fall Prevention 101

How do we prevent falls from occurring? For starters, says Jordan Perry, MSOT, occupational therapist at Prisma Health Senior Care, be aware.

“This means don’t rush to answer the phone, and use the bathroom before the need becomes urgent,” Perry stated.

Remove any tripping hazards in the home, such as area rugs, mats, extension cords and general clutter. Make sure to have proper lighting, and don’t try to maneuver your way around in the dark. Illuminate your way from the bedroom to the bathroom with night lights.

Look where you’re walking, whether it’s at home or out in public. A fall from an uneven sidewalk or higher-than-expected curb can sideline you for weeks, months and even longer.

Bathrooms Pose a Particular Threat

Placing grab bars in the shower and near the toilet is an investment in fall prevention. Non-skid mats in the tub can also prevent falls, but make sure they adhere firmly to the floor of the tub, especially when replacing an old one.

Place a large bath mat outside the shower or tub to absorb water, and consider getting a shower chair. Adding grab rails in the shower and beside the toilet, as well as a raised toilet, can also help reduce fall risks.

Medications May Contribute

Perry recommends that seniors be attentive of the side effects of their medications and be sure to take them correctly. Fill all prescriptions at one pharmacy so the pharmacist can keep on top of any interactions that may cause a problem.

Rosie Gomez helps a participant in the Prisma Health Senior Care gym.

Train Pets to Toe the Line

While pets help combat loneliness, they also increase the risk of falls. Dogs that are companions to seniors should be taught not to jump on their owners or pull on leashes. Add a bell to pet collars so they can’t sneak up on you.

“Placing food and water bowls in a stand can also reduce fall risk,” said Perry.

Choose Footwear Wisely

Ditch the heels, shoes with slippery soles, clumsy clogs and worn-out footwear. Treat yourself to shoes that provide support and comfort, such as those designed for walking. Socks without traction, especially on wooden stairs, can be a recipe for disaster.

Time for an Assistive Device?

When you find yourself holding onto the furniture as you make your way around a room, it’s time to purchase an assistive device, says Perry. Other signs are taking short, shuffling steps; looking at feet while walking and becoming exhausted after covering a short distance.

In selecting an assistive device, whether it is a cane or a rollator, involve a professional so you know you’re getting the right device, and one that is fitted for your particular needs. You may also want to consider installing handrails on both sides of the stairs.

Take Time for Exercise

Many of the participants at Prisma Health Senior Care have raved about how much better they’re doing with strength and balance thanks to their weekly visits to the Senior Care gym. Ongoing exercise is key to maintaining strength, flexibility and balance.

Some basic exercises that Gomez recommends includes mini-squats, toe raises, heel raises and stepping out and back from one side and then the other—all while holding onto a steady surface. Even a little movement can go a long way toward preventing a fall.

Post author Kathleen Stevens is community engagement coordinator at Prisma Health Senior Care. Prisma Health Senior Care follows the PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) model, offering medical support and services, including transportation and an adult activities center, to help seniors remain living at home and in control of their lives. This Medicare/Medicaid program is open to all residents of Greenville County, as well as parts of Anderson and Pickens counties. For more information, call (864) 522-1950.

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