The #1 killer of Older Adults
With the coming of shorter days, frosty nights and falling snow, late fall marks the beginning of the peak season for accidental falls, especially for older people. Falls and fall-related injuries are the leading cause of death in people 65 years and older—more than 15,800 deaths per year. For people 85 and older, one in five falls results in death. Contrary to the myth that falls are unavoidable accidents, most falls are the result of manageable or preventable risks.
Physical changes that come with aging make seniors more prone to falling. Changes in muscles and joints make movement more difficult and make it harder to correct for a sudden loss of balance. Vision changes make it tough for older eyes to adjust to varying levels of light or perceive depth and distance. Many medications, depression, stress or lack of sleep can also affect judgment, balance and coordination.
Older adults who stay physically active improve their balance, flexibility and strength. Exercise and socialization also reduces stress and depression, increases alertness and strengthens the heart and circulatory system. Regular eye exams will help correct vision problems and detect possible diseases, like glaucoma, that make it hard for seniors to see hazards. Sturdy shoes and walking equipment such as a cane will improve balance.
A senior’s own home presents risks, too. There should be plenty of light in every room and along hallways and in stairways. Motion-activated or timer lights can be particularly helpful, especially as days get shorter. Emergency lighting or a flashlight should also be within easy reach. You can improve bathroom safety by having grab bars installed in the tub or shower and by the toilet. Non-slip strips and a bath bench in the tub or shower and a raised toilet seat are valuable additions. In kitchens, countertops should be kept glare-free. All rugs should be tacked down or secured with nonskid pads. Rugs with highly-contrasting dark and light patterns can interfere with seniors’ depth perception and should be avoided or replaced. To reduce glare, only no-wax cleaners should be used on floors. Firmly secure handrails are a necessity on both sides of stairways and outside steps. Steps should also have non-skid treads. Furniture should not block walking areas. Make sfure all electrical cords are out of the way.
Hiring an in-home caregiver can also help prevent falls, especially if you’re a senior who is living alone at home or you are caring for an older loved one. In addition to handling risky household activities, a caregiver can provide constant supervision. Supervision is especially important for older people with dementia that makes them get up and wander at night.
Editor’s Note: Submitted by Jared Caplan, General Manager, Home Care Assistance of Dallas.