Let’s look at some tips to help avoid falls. (Getty Images)
Last week, we provided some facts to validate H.K.’s concern about her 89-year-old father who has balance problems yet refuses any help. Despite his refusal, we know there are things we can do to mitigate the risks by creating a living environment that is as risk-free as possible.
The National Institute on Aging provides some tips useful for everyone, regardless of age.
Floors, stairway and hallways: Handrails on both sides are ideal. If the handrail is only on one side – use it and carry what you need in the free hand. If needed, make a second trip. Also, no small throw rugs, even if they are heirlooms, worth a lot of money or add just the perfect touch to your floor or hallway. Carpets need to be fixed firmly to the floor.
Bathrooms: This is one of the most dangerous rooms. According to the National Institute on Aging, 80 percent of older adult falls happen in the bathroom due to slippery floors and surfaces. Here are some tips: Place a non-slip mat inside and outside the tub. Plug in nightlights in and around the bathroom. Clean up puddles on the floor. Install grab bars by the toilet or near the shower and tub and keep shampoo, soap and other bath products high on a shelf to avoid bending over.
Bedrooms: Darkness is a hazard. Place nightlights and switches close to your bed and keep a flashlight close by in case of a power outage, particularly if you need to make a bathroom stop. Also, keep a well-charged phone or landline near your bed.
Kitchen: Place pots, pans and utensils in a place that is easy to reach. That may involve rearranging your kitchen. Clean up spills immediately; they are falls waiting to happen. Be cautious of waxed floors; if possible, do without. Consider a non-slip mat in areas near common spills or water.
Outdoor spaces: Make sure steps leading to your home are not broken. When visiting others, be aware that some older homes have concrete steps that are not deep which can affect one’s balance. If leaving your home during the day and plan to return when dark, turn on an outdoor light when leaving or have a programmed outdoor light. Also, consider a grab bar near your front door for balance as you lock the door.
Other living areas: One may think, “Just this one time, I’ll stand on the chair to reach something high. Don’t. That one time could be the last time. Use a reach-stick or ask for help. If you use a step stool, make sure it’s steady and has a handrail on top. If you have a pet, know where it is when you are standing or walking. Keep electrical cords near walls and aways from walking paths. Make sure your sofas and chairs are the right height for you to get in and out easily. Finally, keep a list of emergency numbers in large print near your phone and save them under “favorites” on your mobile phone.
Here are few other tips: Get eyes checked once a year and update eyeglasses as needed. Review medications periodically to check for side effects such as drowsiness or dizziness which could increase the risk for falling. And get your hearing checked since hearing plays an important role in balance. A Johns Hopkins study found that falls increase threefold with even a mild hearing loss.
Fall prevention is not just about our environment; it’s about one’s level of fitness. To prevent or minimize injury from a fall, consider exercise. Regardless of one’s life stage, there are fitness programs that can suit each individual’s level for optimum functioning. Such exercises typically are designed to maintain or enhance strength, balance and flexibility. For example, consider tai chi, yoga or join a fitness class.
“When we fall, we are consumed with embarrassment,” writes author Dani Shapiro in the New York Times article (“My Fall Made Me Feel Ashamed,” November 4, 2023).” She continues, “A fall is different from an accident or an act of violence. It’s not something done to you, but something you have done. I had been an agent of my own near catastrophe. My trust in myself had been broken along with my jaw.” Shapiro continues, “When injured we are separated from the herd of the healthy.” She offers a lesson learned: “If we could all acknowledge our shared fragility (with age), shame would disappear.”
Let’s also remember that exercise can push becoming fragile out to our latest year.
H.K., Thank you for your important question. Your father is fortunate to have you as a caring daughter. Stay well and know small acts of kindness count.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at [email protected]. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity