Preventing Falls for Seniors in the Home

An older woman helps her husband stand up from the bed and use his walker, because having help is key in preventing falls for seniors.
Knowing more about fall risks can aid in preventing falls for seniors in and around the home.

For older adults, a fall can be life-altering, which is why preventing falls for seniors is always preferable to recovering from them. In addition to being painful, falls often directly contribute to loss of independence. Nationally, 25% of seniors fall each year. That number is closer to 33% in Oregon. One in five falls causes injury, resulting in 3 million emergency room visits annually. To put that in perspective, the total number of injured seniors in emergency rooms is the same as the entire population of Philadelphia and San Antonio combined.

Whenever a senior has limited mobility, any new injury compounds a preexisting problem. Seniors are often surprised that mobility aids they have been using for years are no longer adequate. For example, imagine your mother, who is right arm dominant, uses a walker. If she falls and fractures her right arm, how will she hold her walker to get to the bathroom safely? Or pull her pants down to use the toilet while holding the walker for stability? Can she take off her own shirt, get into the shower safely, wash her own hair, dry herself, get out of the shower safely, and dry and dress herself? Can she carry a cup of coffee or a meal from the kitchen to the table?

Even minor falls can change daily life for senior loved ones, causing them to need assistance where it was otherwise not needed previously. A better understanding of fall risks in and around the home can help with preventing falls for seniors and avoiding a potentially dangerous incident. Let’s take a look at some common fall risks below.

Fall Risks Related to Environment

Seniors feel more comfortable living in the same home they have enjoyed for years. Unfortunately, older homes and mobile homes are rarely designed for people with low mobility. For example, most bathrooms have small doorways and narrow walking paths that do not accommodate a walker. Toilets are often too low or too close to the bathtub. Some bathtubs have glass doors, and it can be challenging to fit a shower bench into the tub without removing the doors. Some bathtubs have markedly higher floors than the bathroom floor, causing seniors to lose their balance when stepping out.

For seniors with poor eyesight, color and edge contrasts can help them better locate stairs and other pathways in the home. Proper lighting is also necessary to avoid tripping. However, over time, paint fades and becomes dingy, windows become dirty, light bulbs burn out, and clutter deepens, all of which can contribute to falls.

Fall Risks Related to Senior’s Health and Mobility

Reduced Muscle Tone and Stiffness: Seniors who are inactive are prone to muscle and joint stiffness, sciatic nerve pain, and decreased bone density and muscle strength which can make it challenging to walk and balance. For example, strong triceps are needed for pushing off a chair, but seniors rarely use triceps during other daily activities. Flexibility requires routinely putting limbs through their full range of motion, but often arthritis pain discourages diverse activities. Seniors who have limited mobility may wear loose slippers to avoid struggling to put on shoes. However, slippers rarely have good treads or ankle support and, in many cases, are loose enough to contribute to the risk of falls.

Parkinson’s Disease: Parkinson’s disease affects initiation and continuation of movement, balance, and the ability to grip a walker or cane securely. Common reasons Parkinson’s patients fall include:

  • Not using their walker or an inability to use it properly
  • Stumbling and tripping
  • Reaching for items they’ve dropped
  • Standing up too quickly

Incontinence: Many seniors experience increased urinary urgency, especially at night. Many falls happen while a senior is not fully awake and oriented and is hurrying in the dark.

Medications: Certain medications may have side effects of dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion which can make seniors more prone to falling. See our recent blog on medications.

Fall Risks Related to Cognition and Resistance to Change

Dementia: Dementia patients may not understand risks and may resist adoption of any “rules” you or medical professionals attempt to impose upon them for their safety. They may repeatedly forget or resist using assistive devices, even if you remind them daily.

Hemiparalysis: Seniors with hemiparalysis (one side weakness, often caused by a stroke) may need to accept new ways of moving about their home. For example, they may need to get up on the other side of the bed, sit in different chairs, or install a grab bar on the other side of the toilet or shower.

Cost: Rising costs of healthcare equipment and services may lead some seniors to put off getting the help they need to stay safe at home. Similarly, seniors may balk at hiring a contractor to install grab bars, appropriate lighting, and to fix bannisters or build a ramp. It may require multiple conversations about the importance of these expenditures before the senior is ready to make the change.

Poor nutrition: Often, seniors downplay the role of nutrition in preventing falls, but it is a crucial component in safety. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to neuropathy and other issues in the feet, contributing to falls. Lack of protein and calorie malnutrition, which occurs in 27% of the elderly population, can make seniors feel weak and lead to muscle loss.

Dehydration: Dehydration contributes to dizziness and cognitive challenges. Some seniors may have a poor sense of thirst, so it is important to ensure they are properly hydrated throughout the day.

How Can Advantage Home Care Help Prevent Falls?

Because falls often result in serious consequences for seniors, the Advantage Home Care team always include a fall risk assessment and discussion as part of our in-home assessment process and advises family representatives and caregivers on changes that need to be made to improve safety in the home.

Our caregivers can:

  • Encourage and assist with prescribed physical therapy exercises or walking for exercise
  • Cue seniors to use their walkers or other mobility devices
  • Assist seniors in and out of the shower and on and off the toilet
  • Assist seniors with wearing appropriate and safe shoes
  • Assist with medication services (under the supervision of our RN)
  • Assist with decluttering the home
  • Prepare and serve healthy meals
  • Remind seniors to drink water
  • Provide friendly company, to help a senior feel more accepting of change
  • And much more

Do you have a senior loved one who is at an increased risk for falls? Contact us today at 541-440-0933 to learn more about our services and how our dedicated caregivers can help your loved one stay safe and secure in the comfort of home. Advantage Home Care offers in-home care services in Roseburg, Sutherlin, Winston, and throughout the I-5 corridor of Douglas County.