Falls in the elderlyAs we get older, illness, pain and visual problems can increase the risk of trips and falls. Falls can cause injuries but they can also decrease confidence and make your loved one frightened to get out and about. Falling is a serious matter in the elderly. It can lead to broken bones, head injuries and even death, but the good news is that falling isn’t inevitable as we age. With support, care and some practical changes, you can improve stability and prevent any trips and tumbles.
Best foot forwardFoot pain from arthritis or ulcers can impair mobility and increase the risk of falls.
Ill-fitting or unsuitable footwear can also make the elderly unsteady and more likely to stumble.
It’s vital to choose shoes that fit well and have a stable, non-slip sole. Laces can be a problem, so if your loved one has arthritic fingers or struggles to bend down, invest in slip-ons or get elastic laces. At home, slippers are better than socks or stockings for stability and safety. Foot care is crucial. Trimming toe nails, moisturising to prevent cracking and removing excess callus can keep them healthy, so arrange a visit from a chiropodist if self-care is tricky.
Home hazard spottingHome is where the heart is, but it can also be a source of all sorts of obstacles and trip hazards. You can make the environment safer by clearing clutter, placing footstools safely out of the way and securing any trailing electrical cables. It’s sensible to ensure that furniture is well spaced and that there’s a clear pathway to the bathroom and kitchen. Place all essential items close at hand, so that stretching and bending is kept to a minimum. Be vigilant with home maintenance, so that frayed carpet threads are trimmed and garden walkways are free of slippery moss and algae.
Medicine mattersCertain drugs and medicines can cause instability and falls, either because they make blood pressure drop on standing up, or because they increase drowsiness and confusion, with sleeping tablets being a frequent culprit. However, it’s essential not to just ditch the tablets. Instead ask the GP to review all the medication, so that the timing and dosage can be assessed and changed if necessary.
Light the wayFalls are much more likely in the night-time or when lighting is dim. So, ensure that the house is well lit with bright, high-wattage bulbs. Many elderly people need to get up at night to use the bathroom, and a night-light or lamp switch within easy reach can make this safer. You may way to consider whether a commode may be useful.
A helping handCarers can be employed to come into the home and offer support and guidance. They can help with household chores and keep a close-eye to maintain safety. Whether it’s just a few hours to manage challenging tasks, or around-the-clock supervision they can help your loved one stay in the home they love, without risking their wellbeing and security.
Eye, eye!It’s much easier to miss wires, rugs and other objects when your vision is impaired. Organise regular eye-checks, ensure that any glasses prescription is up-to-date and make sure there are plenty of pairs of spectacles, in case one set goes missing.
Bathroom safetySoap, water and slippery flooring can be a dangerous combination. But you can make the bathroom safer by using special grippy mats in the shower or bath, non-slip mats on the floors and installing grab rails to help your loved one get up and move around safely. Consider asking for an Occupational Therapy assessment, so that any problems can be identified and addressed.
Building bonesWith increasing age, our bones can become weaker and more prone to fractures. This bone-thinning is called osteoporosis and women can be especially vulnerable after the menopause. Boost bone strength with regular exercise, plenty of calcium and vitamin D in the diet and a little gentle sunlight. Tuck into oily fish, green leafy veggies and dairy produce, and think about a supplement if healthy nutrition is proving a struggle.
Fit for anythingRegular activity can increase mobility, improve balance, flexibility, and reduce the danger of falls and injury. It’s not about rushing off to the gym. Simple morning stretches, walks with friends, playing cricket with the grandchildren or joining a class to try line-dancing or Thai Chi can all help.
Too often falls are accepted as a natural part of getting older, but they are not inevitable.