“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!”
Made famous by a popular medical alert system company in the late ‘80s, this catchy tagline has been used frequently as a punch line over the past 25 years. But in reality, there is nothing funny about a fall. It doesn’t matter whether a person lives on his or her own, in an independent living community or in an assisted living community, the risk of falling is inherent as people get older.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three people aged 65 or older suffers a fall every year. Even more frightening is the fact that as much as 30 percent of those who take serious spills are victims of such injuries as hip fractures, lacerations and head trauma. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2009 revealed that an estimated 300,000 Americans who are 65 and older will fracture their hips annually. And 20 to 30 percent of those who do will die within a year. It’s a grim outlook for an individual who had no difficulty with independent living prior to the fall.
Following a fall, people are even more likely to need elderly care and struggle with independent living as a result of their injuries. In many cases, these falls were precipitated by a number of health issues. According to the National Institutes of Health, falls are linked to the following risk factors: muscle weakness, poor balance and issues walking, postural hypotension, slower reflexes, foot problems, sensory issues, vision complications, side effects of medication and/or disorientation. Any one of these issues can contribute to a fatal fall, which is why it is important to relay any of these concerns to a physician.
When it comes to elderly care and avoiding these deadly falls, prevention is key. These tips apply to people who are in both independent living communities and assisted living communities. Here are some tried-and-true strategies recommended by the renowned Mayo Clinic:
- Put your best foot forward…again and again. A regular exercise program is imperative. Consult your doctor about appropriate physical activity, whether it’s walking or water aerobics. You want a regimen that will improve strength, flexibility, coordination and balance, all of which will reduce the risk of falling. If a person is not confident enough to work out on his or her own, then a physical therapist may be beneficial.
- A real shoe-in. It’s only the best for your feet. Sidestep heels, wedges, flip-flops and other shoes that are likely to cause a fall. Instead think smart, reliable shoes that fit properly and have nonskid soles.
- See the lights! Whether a person resides in an independent living community or an assisted living community, it’s important to have plenty of light in the living quarters. Keep an illuminated path in areas that are well traveled, especially late at night or in the early morning hours.
- De-clutter and remove any hazardous obstacles. From boxes and rugs to cords and coffee tables, let common sense prevail. A family member or friend should do a quick reconnaissance of a loved one’s quarters to ensure the area is safe and sound.
- Make your physician a partner in the fall-prevention plan. Review all prescriptions and medical conditions, which can cause side effects that put a person at risk for a fall. Also, get regular vision exams to ensure eyesight isn’t impaired.
- Fall-proof living quarters. Whether it’s installing grab bars in bathtubs or showers, raised toilet seats or non-slip tread on flooring, these devices are beneficial for those people who are part of both independent living communities and assisted living communities. They are ideal for helping the elderly maintain balance and avoid dangerous falls.
The statistics on falls and the elderly paint a very bleak picture, one filled with long-term rehabilitation, chronic pain, reduced mobility and early death in some cases. The good news is that with conscientious elderly care and proper precautions, falls in the elderly can be avoided.