Falls are a leading cause of death and injury among seniors in the United States and Canada, with some studies estimating that people aged 65 and older are nine times more likely to fall than their younger counterparts, and as many as 80 per cent will have a serious fall over the course of their lifetime.
While falls have gained widespread attention among senior health advocates, the danger remains unabated, but there are ways to identify the biggest risks to seniors.
1. Stairs: Dr. Bergin says many falls among seniors are the result of people missing the last step, and thinking they are already at the bottom of the stairs. She suggests holding onto the banister or railing the entire way up and down the stairs.
2. Pets: About 87,000 American seniors are sent to the emergency room every year as a result of falling over their pets. Make sure Fido is trained not to walk between your feet.
3. Restrooms: With showers and toilets, there is a lot of getting up and down, so minimize your chances of falling by keeping grab bars and non-slip floors in the restroom.
4. Items on floor: The more items on the floor, the higher the chance of tripping and falling, so keep the floor neat and tidy.
5. Loose rugs: As with items on the floor, it can be easy for anyone, including seniors, to trip and fall from a loose rug. Dr. Bergin recommends using an adhesive to keep the rug on the floor, and prevent it from moving when walked on.
“These are the hazards which result in broken bones,” says Dr. Bergin.
Peter Ross, CEO and founder of Senior Helpers, a Maryland-based home care agency with 300 franchises across the United States, tells RetirementHomes.com that while falls are the biggest risk for seniors, there are often many dangers lurking around the house.
“Kitchens are a huge issue, and the appliances can be very problematic for seniors,” Ross says. “My own late aunt, who had eyesight problems, couldn’t see well, so she put her hand over the stove to see if it was hot.”
Ross recommends that adult children take an audit of their parents’ home on every visit to make sure that there are no problematic areas or potential risks. He says it doesn’t have to be a detailed inspection; rather, just a quick walk around the home and look for exposed wires, loose rugs or other clutter.
Nicole Brackett, Home Care Training Specialist with Denver-based Homewatch CareGivers International, adds that one effective way to lower the risks of falls and injuries in general is for seniors to recognize when they are tired or fatigued, and not attempt any activity that may be strenuous if they don’t feel capable.
“The best way to limit risks is to plan ahead. Rushing can lead to dangerous mistakes,” Brackett says.