Millions of elderly Americans fall every year during all seasons, not just the icy winter months. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in four elderly people – those greater than 65 years old – will fall each year. Less than half of those tell their doctors. One in five causes a serious injury and more than 800,000 patients per year are hospitalized. When estimated in 2015, medical costs were found to be more than $50 billion – 75% of which was the burden of Medicare and Medicaid. As the baby-boomer generation continues to grow older, these numbers are only expected to continue growing.
In a lot of cases, these falls could be prevented by a multifactorial approach. Here we will discuss how a few hazards at home could be easily fixed to decrease your risk of falling.
Floors: When you walk through your house, do you see any tripping hazards? Keeping your floors tidy is a safe and easy way to prevent a fall. Although you may have a throw rug to keep your feet warm at the kitchen sink or to keep the floor dry in an entryway, these are a huge risk factor for falling. It is very easy for a walker leg to catch on a throw rug and roll it up for someone to trip on.
Stairs and steps: As you age, you may not be able to run up the stairs like you once did. It then becomes even more important to have sturdy handrails to keep yourself upright, as a fall on stairs is exponentially more dangerous. Do you have a hard time seeing where the edge of the step is? Use a contrasting color duct tape to highlight the edge of the step and make it easier to see.
Bathrooms: One of the most slippery places in the home, you will need to make sure that you have something to hold onto if you start falling. Grab bars can easily be installed in the shower and near the toilet for that extra line of safety. Not every bathroom is handicap accessible and a walker may not even fit in the door. Special equipment has also been designed to make using the bathroom safer and easier including shower chairs and raised toilet seats.
Bedrooms: Ever wake up in the middle of the night and have to go to the bathroom immediately? That mad dash can easily result in a fall and for some, that dash happens multiple times per night. Have an easy-to-reach light next to your bed and use nightlights to help guide your way. It may sound obvious, but if you cannot see, your balance is greatly impaired.
These tips are just the tip of the iceberg in fall prevention. There are many other steps you can take to decrease your risk of falling including having regular checkups with your doctor. Changes in blood pressure, new medications, and low vitamin D can all lead to increased risk of falls with injuries. Visit your eye doctor regularly too. Sometimes you cannot see the hazards you are about to trip over or your lenses may make some objects appear closer or further than they really are. Lastly I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t suggest regular exercise. Exercise is a positive lifestyle change everyone should take part in because it helps to improve every aspect of your well-being physically, mentally and emotionally.
In the event of a fall, you should always have a plan to call for assistance. Keep a cell phone or Life-Alert on you at all times. Remember: it is always safer to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. Keep yourself safe by following these guidelines and taking the necessary steps for change.
John Comstock, PT, is a physical therapist with Eastern Niagara Hospital’s rehabilitation services department. He brings 34 years of physical therapy experience to the team. For 25 of those years, he was the owner-operator of Lockport Physical Therapy. To schedule an outpatient therapy appointment, call 514-5790. Eastern Niagara Healthlines is a special feature to the Union-Sun & Journal by Eastern Niagara Health System. Questions may be directed to Community Relations at 514-5505.