Aging Well: Prevent falls with simple changes

Prevent falls

■ Exercise regularly to improve muscle strength, flexibility and balance.

■ Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your prescription and over-the-counter medications to reduce interactions that cause dizziness or drowsiness.

■ Have your vision and hearing checked at least once a year.

■ Get up slowly after you sit or lie down.

■ If you use oxygen, make sure you are aware of where the cord is at all times.

■ Do not try to carry something while using a walker. Consider using a walker bag or tray.

■ Have a lamp or light switch you can easily reach without getting out of bed.

■ Keep a flashlight handy and place nightlights in bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways.

■ Remove or securely attach throw rugs to the floor.

■ Remove clutter from floors and stairways.

■ Keep telephone and electrical cords out of pathways.

■ Select carpets with low, tight pile.

■ Wear nonslip shoes or slippers. Make sure hard floor surfaces are slip resistant.

■ Make sure steps, stairs and landings are well lit.

■ Paint or use a contrasting color of masking tape on the top edge of steps.

■ Make sure there is no loose carpeting on stairs.

■ Install railings on both sides of stairs.

■ Make sure tubs or showers are nonslip surface, and add grab bars in the shower, tub and toilet areas.

■ Consider using an elevated toilet seat.

■ Set water heater to low or 120 degrees to prevent scald injuries.

■ Consider using adaptive devices to help you more easily conduct activities of daily living. Maxi Aids (www.maxi> <p>aids.com) and Independent Living Aids (www.independentli...) offer a variety of adaptive products.

■ Keep emergency numbers in large print near each phone, and consider wearing an alarm device that will notify help in case you fall and cannot get up.

■ Many home safety guidelines and checklists are available online to help family members identify safety hazards in an older adult’s home.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

Resources

■ Aging Well, a program of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, provides home safety visits for older adults through referrals from health care professionals. For more information, call 970-871-7676.

■ Northwest Colorado Options for Longterm Care offers financial assistance to older adults or caregivers of older adults who need equipment or services to enhance their safety. Nonfinancial eligibility requirements apply. For more information, call Nancy McStay at 970-824-5646.

■ Northwest Colorado Options for Longterm Care also offers financial assistance to older adults who have or qualify for long-term Medicaid and need home modifications to enhance their safety. For more information, call Regina Grinolds at 970-824-3985.

■ The Independent Life Center provides information, resources and assistance to people with disabilities. Programs include support/information groups for people with vision or hearing loss and assistance with home improvements that will help people with disabilities live safer in their homes. For more information, call 970-826-0833.

■ Aging Well offers Tai Chi for Health and other gentle fitness programs designed to improve older adults’ strength, flexibility and balance to reduce their risk of falls and keep them safe and independent in their homes. For more information, call 970-871-7676 or visit www.nwcovna.org and click on “Services” and “Wellness and Aging Services”.

— A dim hallway, a bit of frayed carpeting, a poorly placed piece of furniture: These details may present only small safety hazards in many households.

But when a person has poor vision or balance or copes with other health challenges, the risk that seemingly harmless clutter or flaws within a home will cause that person to fall or injure themselves increases dramatically. And the cost can be high.

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among adults 65 and older and also are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries and fractures among older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Falls can be debilitating. Even if a person is not injured by a fall, he or she may develop a fear of falling that causes them to be less active, making them less fit and mobile and, in turn, increasing their risk of fall and injury.

Despite grim statistics, many falls are preventable. Simple changes — such as reducing clutter and installing better lighting — can go a long way toward enabling older adults to live safer and longer in their homes.

Aging Well, a program of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, provides home safety visits for older adults who have fallen or are at risk of falling. The visits, offered through a referral from a doctor or health care professional, are conducted by occupational or physical therapists.

Jane Sloan, an occupational therapist at Yampa Valley Medical Center, conducts home safety visits for Aging Well and also helps rehabilitate older adults recovering from falls and injuries at the Doak Walker Care Center.

She notes that as adults age, changes in their vision and balance, as well as reduced muscle strength and sensitivity to temperatures, make them more susceptible to falls and injuries such as scalding within their homes.

At the same time, they often are unaware of safety hazards in their homes and routines, particularly if they have lived in their homes for a long time.

“It seems like the longer they’ve lived in a house, the harder it is to think about things in a different way,” Sloan said.

Findings from a study at Cornell University echo this point. The study asked older adults to estimate the risk of injury associated with common household items, including flooring, doors, stairs and bathtubs/showers. Researchers compared these estimates with actual injury rates published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for the items.

The study found that older adults are not entirely accurate in their perception of home injury risks — often overestimating the riskiness of some items while underestimating the riskiness of others.

For this reason, it’s important that an older adult have help in determining measures that can be taken to make their homes safer.

Common sense can go a long way in making these assessments. Unstable or slippery surfaces, loose rugs or electrical cords and clutter or obstacles on the floor are among the many risks likely to jump out at an “objective” observer.

Sloan also talks to the older adult about their routines. Sitting while getting dressed or moving pots and pans to a more easily reached shelf are examples of how daily practices can be made safer.

Family and friends can be particularly helpful in this regard because they often know the older person’s routines. If they know it’s important for Dad to go out and feed the birds, they can lower the bird feeder so he doesn’t have to climb a ladder.

“They can be the best help because they know their family member’s habits,” Sloan said.

This article includes information from “Home Safety Guidelines for Older Adults,” a fact sheet from Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information,visit www.nwcovna.org or call 970-871-7606.

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