Seniors are vulnerable to accidents that can cause injury and a sudden decline in health. Falls are the most common accident, and the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations in this age group. According to Osteoporosis Canada, one-third of seniors over 65 and one-half of those over 80 will fall each year. Falls happen as deteriorating physical capabilities make aging people less stable on their feet. Some diseases, such as Osteoporosis, Parkinson’s and dementia, and medication problems can also cause falls.
A serious fall can be a life-changing event that can mean an end of independent living and an early and abrupt start to caregiving duties. I know. At the age of 85, my mother fell and broke her leg close to her hip and never walked again. Reducing my own risk of falls, and informing others through my book, speeches and articles, has become one of my personal missions. Fortunately, I have found many practical ways to reduce the risk of falling.
Creating a safe home environment is the crucial first step. Improve interior and exterior lighting, remove clutter, protruding furniture and electrical cords from high-traffic walkways, and replace throw rugs with rubber-backed mats. Install a grab bar in bathtubs, the most slippery place in the house. I wear only rubber-soled footwear and I have thrown out my high-heeled and sling-back shoes, and backless slippers, opting for safety over vanity.
Getting a falls-risk assessment by a family doctor, including a bone-mineral density test for osteoporosis, will identify ways to reduce the risk of falling. Adopting a nutritionally-balanced diet will help prevent weakness, fatigue and dizziness. Eating calcium-rich foods, taking a Vitamin D supplement every day, and limiting consumption of caffeinated coffee, tea, cola soft drinks and salt will all help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Using the calcium calculator on Osteoporosis Canada’s website will determine whether you are getting enough calcium.
Inactivity and weak muscles significantly increase the risk of falling. I have watched far too many elders struggle to rise from a chair and nearly fall. Regular weight-bearing and resistance exercises are a priority for me so I maintain my muscle and bone mass and balance as I age. Strengthening thigh and ankle muscles are especially important because they are crucial for good balance. Walking, Tai Chi, and dancing are also good for bones and balance.
Lastly, we all need to be reminded to pay more attention to our surroundings, and not try to do things we can no longer do, such as climbing a tall ladder. More fall-prevention initiatives are covered in Doris Inc., in the chapter called, ‘Elder Proofing to Reduce Preventable Crises.’
By Shirley Roberts, Author of Doris Inc.: a Business Approach to Caring for Your Elderly Parents