When you’re young and able-bodied, you don’t think much about a fall. You may simply dust yourself off and carry on. But for the elderly, falls can cause injuries from scratches, bruises, and abrasions to more serious harm such as fractures and head trauma. These falls can have serious effects on a senior’s life and independence. For these reasons, caregivers must stay aware of the possibility of a senior falling.
Seniors are at higher risk of falling for many reasons. Seniors may have poor mobility, balance problems, diseases and long term illnesses, vision problems, side effects from medications, environmental or situational hazards, or have less strength and coordination due to lack of activity. The good news is that you can reduce the risk and maybe even prevent the risk of falls by taking a few simple steps towards keeping the seniors in your life safe. Always ensure that they use the appropriate assistive device such as a cane, walker or wheelchair to aide them in ambulating.
Regular exercise builds strength and stamina, prevents loss of bone mass and improves balance which reduces the risk of falling. Caregivers should encourage seniors to be active any way they can. The key is to start slow and remind them that exercise doesn’t have to involve strenuous workouts or trips to the gym. It’s about adding more movement and activity to their life even if in small ways. Whether a senior is generally healthy or managing an illness—even if they’re housebound—there are many easy ways to get their body moving and improve their health. Walking, yoga, water aerobics and senior fitness classes are all great options that can be done alone or with partners!
For exercises that can be done at home, caregivers should look into range of motion. There are two forms of range of motion. Passive range of motion requires no effort on the senior’s behalf. For example, if you hold their arm and move it in a circular motion for them that would be a passive range of motion exercise. Active range of motion helps build muscle strength and can be done without assistance. For example, they can watch TV and rotate their wrist joints clockwise, then counterclockwise for 10 minute. Lifting the arm, extending the arms and turning the palms up, then rotating the palms downward is also an active range of motion exercise. Talk to your senior’s doctor to see what range of motion exercises can help, and learn how to properly do them.
Another way to ensure safety and reduce the risk of elderly falls is to make sure that you are trained in how to properly transfer your loved one. Transferring techniques and tools will vary on the individual, so using proper body mechanics and having training is very important. Transferring and proper body mechanics can be taught by a physical therapist or an occupational therapist. You can also seek other resources in your community to assist you in this area. Here are just a few basic tips for proper transferring:
- Keep a wide base of support by spreading your feet apart. If you’re transferring someone from one place to another, stagger your feet in a walking position, and shift your weight from front to back as you lift, while keeping the person as close to you as possible.
- To prevent back injuries, bend at the hips and knees as you prepare to lift someone; then straighten at the hips and knees as you lift. When turning, pivot on your feet or move them. Do not twist at the waist. For added back support, consider wearing a safety belt like those used by workers who frequently lift and carry items on the job.
- Plan ahead. Know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there, and make sure the person you’re assisting also knows. Move everything out of the way, and make sure the brakes are engaged on any wheeled devices. Transfer to even, stable surfaces; avoid low or overstuffed chairs and couches.
- If your loved one starts to fall, ease them down onto the nearest surface — a chair, bed or even the floor. Don’t stretch to complete the intended transfer. You’re likely to lose your balance, strain your muscles, and injure both yourself and the person you’re transferring.
- Tailor your transferring techniques to the type and degree of weakness in the individual you are assisting. Needs may change over time as weakness progresses.
- Wear shoes with low heels, flexible nonslip soles and closed backs.
- Don’t be discouraged if transferring seems cumbersome or too difficult at first. Practice makes perfect!
Effectively preventing falls can take some effort, time and education, especially if this topic is new for you and your loved. According to the National Council on Aging, falls result in more than 2.4 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 772,000 hospitalizations and more than 21,700 deaths. Don’t wait until a fall happens to talk to your loved one and start making changes for their safety. Step up and promote fall prevention to keep our seniors safe!