At the age of 76, Martha lives alone and prides herself on her independence. She’s reasonably healthy and routinely dismisses her children’s concerns for her safety. After all, she’s lived in the same house for over 40 years and can find her way around it even in the dark. She did give in to her family on one point and agreed to wear an emergency response button around her neck. Martha thought that would be the end of the discussion – until the morning she took a tumble down the stairs carrying laundry to the basement.
Like many people her age, Martha ended up with serious consequences from her fall. Yes, she was able to push her medical alert button to summon help, but that didn’t change the fact that she required surgery for her fractured hip, weeks in rehabilitation, and a long road back to health. Afterward, her family realized that their mother had lost much of her self-confidence. She seemed fearful of falling again and limited her activities and social engagements. As a result, Martha grew depressed, isolated and increasingly helpless.
This potentially bleak scenario is not inevitable. Since 2008, the National Council on Aging has used the first day of fall to raise awareness about how to prevent fall-related injuries among older adults. Most falls can be prevented if you know where to look.
The most common factors that can lead to a fall include balance and gait, vision, medications, the home environment, and chronic health conditions. If you have an aging parent, grandparent or other older relative in your life, reducing their risk of falling is a great way to help them stay healthy and independent as long as possible.
Enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe. Ask if they’re concerned about falling. Discuss their current health conditions. Find out if your loved one is experiencing any problems with managing their own health. Are they having trouble remembering to take their medications—or are they experiencing side effects? Is it getting more difficult for them to do things they used to do easily? Are hearing and vision changes becoming problematic?
Like Martha in our example, many seniors have lived in their homes for a long time and have never thought about simple modifications that might make it safer as they age. Do a walk-through safety assessment of their home. Simple and inexpensive fixes like increased lighting, secure rails on both sides of stairs, and grab bars for the shower, tub and near the toilet can greatly improve safety.
Many older adults recognize that falling is a risk, but they believe it won’t happen to them or they won’t get hurt—even if they’ve already fallen in the past. Whatever their concerns are, suggest that they discuss it with their health care provider who can assess their risk and suggest programs or services that could help.
Partner with other family members to keep older adults active and safe. Falling does not have to be an inevitable part of aging.