Help your senior patients to stay safe at home

For those 65 and older, falling can be fatal. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among this age group, and some 40 percent of seniors fall at least once each year. Additionally, one in four seniors who sustains a hip fracture from a fall will die within a year, and another 50 percent will never return to their pre-fall level of mobility.

“[A] sizeable segment of the population is at risk for falling,” said Jonathan Scheff, MD, chief medical officer for managed care organization Health Net, Inc. “For the elderly,” he added, “falls often lead to a downward health spiral, so the key is taking steps to prevent falls in the first place. Older Americans are living longer than ever, and our goal at Health Net is to help them avoid debilitating injuries and enjoy their golden years.”

In recognition of May as Older Americans Month, Health Net compiled the following checklist from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging (AoA). Share the list with seniors to help them prevent potentially life-threatening falls.

  • Install handrails on both sides of any stairways.
  • Secure all throw rugs and area rugs with tacks, nonskid pads or double-sided rug tape.
  • Use non-skid floor wax.
  • Remove soap buildup in tubs and showers.
  • Place non-slip strips in tub and shower; secure bathmats with double-sided tape.
  • Install adjustable-height showerheads.
  • Mount grab bars on both sides of toilet, as well as on bath and shower walls.
  • Keep items used frequently within easy reach to eliminate the need for a step stool.
  • Plug nightlights in hallways, bedrooms, bathrooms and stairways.
  • Install light switches at the top and bottom of stairs.
  • Place a lamp and telephone near your bed.
  • Remove any clutter from hallways and other high-traffic areas.

“In addition to making their homes as fall-proof as possible, older Americans also can take steps that will both improve wellness and reduce the risk of falling,” said Scheff. Toward this end, the CDC suggests that seniors:

  • Exercise regularly, because lack of exercise leads to weakness, which in turn increases the chances of falling. Exercises that improve balance – such as yoga and Tai chi – are especially beneficial;
  • Review with your healthcare provider the medications – both over-the-counter and prescription – that you’re currently taking to determine if any are causing significant drowsiness or disorientation, as these conditions increase the risk of falling;
  • Have your vision checked regularly to detect conditions – such as glaucoma or cataracts – that could impair vision and possibly cause a fall. Those who wear glasses also should have annual vision tests.

“These are largely preventable injuries,” explains Scheff, “so we’re urging seniors to follow the AoA’s recommendations for preventing falls at home.”