Living independently in one’s own home is something that we all want and strive for. This is both for ourselves and for our aging family members. But as we age, it can be harder to do so safely. Although declines in hearing, vision, strength, and mobility are a normal part of aging, falls do not have to be an irrevocable part of getting older. In fact, there are many simple things that people can do to help reduce the chance of falling at home.
First, stay healthy! That is certainly something that is easier said than done but, in this case, it refers to the basics. Stay active for at least 30 minutes every day. Even light activity around the house will keep muscles strengthened and challenge the balance centres of your brain. You can also do targeted exercise prescribed by a health care provider or join exercise groups specific to improving balance such as yoga or tai chi. In addition to regular activity, make sure to eat healthy too. Once again, don’t over complicate things, three meals a day with a good selection from the Canadian food guide. For seniors already in poor health, this can sometimes be difficult, so ensure that there is a good supply of easy to prepare staples in the home or services such as Meals on Wheels on hand. This means that, even on bad days, good food is available. Eating poorly for just a few days can have a huge impact on one’s strength and balance.
Second, consider modifying the environment. Falls happen mostly at stairs, the bathroom, and the bedroom (and usually in that order too). With this in mind, make sure that all stairways in and outside the home have even steps, hand railings, are well lit, and are free of clutter. It only takes a 1/4 inch deviation in someone’s step to cause a fall from stairs. In the bathroom, three renovations that can be considered are a roll in shower, properly placed grab bars, and a high height toilet. In the bedroom, ensure the bed is at a safe and comfortable height to get on and off. Also, make sure the walkway from the bedroom to the bathroom is clear and has night lights as this is the most common cause of falls at night. Should you need further help to design a solution for your home, there are both public and private occupational therapists that specialize in home modifications who can address specific concerns.
Finally, consider using mobility aids such as a cane of walker. Canes are best to consider when balance issues are mild and involve only one side of the body (for example an osteoarthritic knee). Walkers should be used when there are moderate balance concerns which also affect both sides of the body equally (such as with peripheral neuropathy). Both canes and walkers have specific correct and incorrect ways they can be used. If you are unsure if you are using them correctly, speak with your health care provider and they can assess if the equipment is doing its job. Additionally, many types of mobility aids can be partially funded by the government and/or private insurance. To see if someone qualifies, a person must be assessed by an occupational therapist or physiotherapist who is registered with the government to assess for mobility aids.
Reducing the chance of falls is something that can be done with some time and effort by both you and your healthcare provider. By making simple efforts such as those listed above, you or a loved one can stay in their home safer and longer.