Preventing falls among the elderly
Corey Detlefs, MD, is a trauma surgeon at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix.
Question: My 65-year-old mother is becoming weaker and she doesn’t move well on her own. Her eyesight is also failing. What are some things I should do to prevent day-to-day injuries, like falling?
Answer: Falls are often overlooked as the basis for serious and life-threatening injuries. Falls are, in fact, the leading cause of injury-related death among older adults. One-third of U.S. adults over 65 fall each year. Twenty to 30 percent suffer injuries like bruises, hip fractures or even head traumas and brain damage.
The best way to prevent fall-related injuries is to be proactive. As your mother’s caretaker, it is important to do a home survey to assess for risk of falls. Be sure that there are no trip hazards that could lead to injury. Things like throw rugs, cords and low furniture are all hazards because they are not easily visible. Low toilets and slick bathtubs are also a potential danger. If you do not feel comfortable doing a home survey alone, have a home care nurse make the assessment. If home modifications are needed, companies like Rebuilding Together can assist for little or no cost.
Also, don’t underestimate the value of overall well-being. Be sure your mother is taking prescribed medications, eating well and staying active. Vertigo or numbness in a leg or foot can reduce safety. Consider a walker or other assistive device.
It is also wise to prepare for unavoidable accidents. Keep emergency numbers in large print near the phone. Keep a list of your mother’s medications in a visible area. In addition, you may want to look into home alarm services that offer necklaces that call for help with the push of a button. This way she can notify others she has fallen, even if she can’t stand up.