Now that winter is upon us, we are more careful not to slip on the icy roads. However, we may not realize that we are just as likely to fall in our own home. Statistics show that more than 30 percent of Canadians over the age of 65 fall at home each year. A fifth of those who fall require medical attention for injuries. This leads to a change in mobility and independence, resulting in the need for hospital admissions, long-term care or home care.
Older adults who have had a previous fall may develop a fear of falling again. This fear makes them more dependent on others, and even goes as far as stopping them from doing things they were able to do before. Ironically, this decrease in mobility causes physical changes in strength, range of motion, and balance – putting them at a greater risk for future falls.
In order to break this cycle, it is important to identify the risk factors early. Risk of falls is determined by personal factors and environmental factors. By taking the time to review your or your loved ones’ current health and living space, you can prevent falls at home.
Medical conditions that cause changes in vision, hearing, walking, and balance increase your risk of falls. If prescribed, things like glasses, hearing aides, walkers or canes should be used to minimize risk. As well, certain medications or a combination of prescription drugs can lead to confusion, dizziness, or a loss of balance. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medications to make sure that there are no side effects that will put you at risk.
To help with age related changes in strength, endurance, flexibility, and posture that affect mobility, an exercise program can be implemented in your daily routine. If you are unsure of what exercises are right for you, talk to your physiotherapist.
Around the house, try to remove any throw rugs, obstacles, and clutter that may cause an accident. Also, keep an eye out for slippery surfaces, uneven floors, or loose cords that you might trip on. Keep areas such as the bedroom and hallway to the bathroom well lit or have night-lights plugged in.
In the kitchen or storage room, you want to keep frequently used items within reach or low to the floor. If you have to get items from a high shelf, use a stepladder or ask someone to assist you instead of using a footstool or chair.
If it is in your budget, install handrails along your stairs, especially if they are used often. Falls can also be prevented in the bathroom by having a non-slip mat in the tub and by installing grab bars.
Outdoors, you want to have a clear pathway from the car to your house. Have someone break up the ice and use sand or road salt to keep you from slipping. If you use a walker or cane, make sure it has an attachment that adds traction for icy conditions. Also, it is very important to wear a good pair of supportive shoes when walking. Make sure the sole has good grip and that it has a firm heel at the back of the shoe (not a “high heel”).
The solutions may seem practical, but it is surprising how many falls are caused by overlooking these simple things. It is often a combination of both personal and environmental factors that lead to serious falls. In the event of an injury-causing fall, please seek immediate medical attention. If you would like more information on fall prevention, talk to your physiotherapist or health care professional for advice.
Adrian Salonga is a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor’s degree of Medical Rehabilitation in Physical Therapy.