When an elderly parent calls you in a panic to say they have had a fall, you can’t help but think the worst.
Having experienced this, I did a lot of research to find out why do old people fall and what can be done to prevent it from happening.
Essentially, the primary reason for someone falling is a when they experience a situation that challenges strength or balance beyond the persons capabilities.
The main reasons for an elderly person having a fall are:
- Health based reasons – these reasons include things like balance problems, body or muscle weakness, chronic illness, problems with vision or side effects from medication.
- Environmental reasons – an elderly person may have a fall due to indoor or outdoor hazards, for example an uneven or wet surface, a trip or a slip.
- Triggered falls – a triggered fall is usually sudden and a result of something unexpected happening, such as being pushed whilst in a busy public place or being pulled by a strong dog on a lead. Triggered falls can also happen because of health related events, like a low blood sugar moment.
In this post I will go through some of the ways I worked with my parents towards preventing future falls for my them and ways that you can help to prevent the elderly from having falls.
Re assessing medication to help prevent falls
Medication can often produce side effects that could lead to a fall, for example:
- Medication for diabetes – could lead to low blood sugar episodes which could trigger a fall. Whilst this medicine can not be stopped, assessing the times of day when the medication is taken could help to avoid a fall. For instance, if you know you tend to feel dizzy at certain times of the day, you could change the time you take the medication to suit your lifestyle better or make sure you gave something on hand to raise blood sugar levels at certain times of the day.
- Blood pressure medication could increase the risk of a fall, this is something that could be discussed with the doctor – if the dosage is too high this could make you more prone to having a fall.
- Tylenol PM – over the counter medicine that is labeled PM contains a sedative, it is usually in the form of a antihistamine. Something as simple as a hay fever and allergy tablet could have more drastic effects on an older adult as they are often sensitive to these drugs. The effect of the sedative could lead to a loss in balance or the person feeling confused. Reviewing this type of medication could reduce the risk of a fall.
There are other types of medicines too that have side effects that could increase the risk of a fall, it is a good idea to study the leaflets of side effects for each medicine with the person who takes them.
You can then have a chat with their doctor as to whether they think it would be a good idea to alter the persons medication, by reducing the dosage or switching to a different ingredient.
How household changes can help to prevent falls
Some simple changes in the household could rescue the risk of a fall fo older people. You could talk to the elderly person about their individual needs and struggles, then watch and assess how they move around the house to figure out where they may need help.
For example my dad always uses the old chunky TV as a balance support to walk through to the hallway. I realised this and figured out a way to stop him from needing to do this, as the top of the TV is not really a suitable aid for leaning on whilst walking!
(The solution involved moving the TV to clear a wide enough gap for him to wheel his three wheeled walker through to the hall, so he didn’t have to let go of it to get through the gap.)
- Often simple changes in the home can help to prevent falls and trips – how often do you catch the edge of a mat or rug when walking and it kicks up, tripping you up. A simple change such as moving the mat or using anti slip material to secure it down could help to stop this from happening.
- Grip bars and rails can be bought for very little money and can be easily installed anywhere inside or outside of the home, providing you have a little DIY knowledge. These should be placed in the exact spots where you see the elderly person starting to struggle or look for something to hold onto.
- Depending on the severity of the elderly persons chances of falling, it could be worth thinking about buying a commode. This is a portable toilet that can sit in the bedroom which can be easily used in urgent situations and could reduce the risk of a fall. For example, if the elderly person wakes up in the night and needs to use the toilet, they might try to hurry to the bathroom in a half asleep state, making them more likely to have a fall on the way. If they have a commode in the bedroom that is easily accessible; they would not have to struggle as far which would reduce the risk of them having a fall.
Lifestyle changes that help to prevent falls
There are so many lifestyle changes that could aid in reducing the risk of an elderly person having a fall. For example, if they become weak after being on their feet for a period of time or when walking, a mobility scooter or a walker with an inbuilt chair would drastically change their lifestyle.
They could travel or walk knowing that they have somewhere to sit down to rest if needed.
The options for changing lifestyle to reduce the risk of falling changes greatly depending on the person and their unique situation, it is impossible to list everything here.
The best way I can suggest to help to reduce the risk of elderly people from falling is to talk to them in detail about everything they do in their day to day lives, and perform your own kind of ‘risk assessment’ checklist for each action.
By figuring out their needs and habits you can help them to put things in place to help reduce the risk of them having a fall. The solution may be incredibly simple and obvious, such as using the the stairlift the carry washing up the stairs or moving pieces of furniture.
Comment below with your problem and I will give my best advice on how I would help my elderly parents in a similar situation.