According to Statistics Canada, between 20% and 30% of older Canadians experience one or more falls each year, and many of them require hospitalization as a result. Over one third of those older adults are unable to go home after falling, and are admitted to a long-term care centre.
Fall prevention should therefore be a priority for your parents or grandparents who still live in their homes.
The risk of falling can be reduced by taking a few simple measures:
Keeping active helps keep muscles strong and reflexes sharp. Elderly people can attend exercise classes that are designed specifically for them.
USE MEDICATION WISELY
Some prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can increase the risk of falls by causing drowsiness, dizziness, or a drop in blood pressure.
If your parents are prescribed a medication, take the time to discuss it with their pharmacist to be sure you fully understand its effects. Likewise, always ask the pharmacist first if your parents are thinking of taking an OTC medication or natural product. Never assume a product is right for them just because it works for you.
WATCH FOR DEHYDRATION
Dehydration can cause confusion and dizziness, which in turn can result in a fall. Older adults are more likely to get dehydrated as they may lose the reflex to drink as they age.
To reduce the risk of dehydration, seniors should be encouraged to drink, especially during heatwaves, for example by placing a pitcher of water where they can reach it easily.You should also ask their pharmacist or doctor for advice right away if they experience a bout of vomiting or diarrhea.
DON’T BE RUSHED
Older adults, especially, should be careful not to change positions too suddenly, for example, getting out of bed in the morning or getting up from a chair, as it can cause dizziness. Consider installing grab bars in the bathroom or beside the bed, to make it easier to change positions.
Other situations that can lead to falls include rushing to answer the phone or to get the door, especially if it involves negotiating stairs. It is best to let the phone or doorbell ring rather than risk a fall trying to answer it.
HAVE EYESIGHT CHECKED REGULARLY
It’s important to be able to see obstacles clearly in order to avoid them. Regular eye exams are an opportunity to have vision checked and to adjust prescription glasses as needed. If your parents suffer from an eye disease like glaucoma or macular degeneration, make sure they go for their regular follow-up appointments.
WEAR WELL-FITTING SHOES
Poor-fitting shoes can increase the risk of a fall. When buying new shoes, opt for a specialty footwear store rather than a department store, especially if your parents have special needs or have trouble putting their shoes on their own. These shops often have a better selection of shoes to meet a range of needs, and their sales staff is better trained to help you.
USE WALKING AIDS
If your parents are reluctant to use a cane or walker, even if they need one, ask them why. If there is a problem with the device, you may be able to fix it. If they feel self-conscious about using a walking aid, try explaining to them that the consequences of a fall are far more serious than other peoples’ perceptions of them.
ADAPT THE HOME
To reduce the risk of falls at home, your parents should be able to get from one room to another as directly as possible, without having to negotiate any obstacles in the way.
If need be, rethink the layout of the rooms and remove any unnecessary furniture or knick-knacks. Remove any rugs or carpets your parents could trip on, or at least make sure they have non-slip backing.
Good lighting is also very important, especially if your parents have vision problems. Install night lights in the hallways and bathroom so they can see properly when they get up at night.
If there are stairs in the home, make sure they are well lit, that the handrail is firmly attached, and that there are no objects on the landing or stairs.
Remember to check that outdoor walkways and entrances are free of clutter and well lit. If necessary, consider hiring someone to keep them clear of snow in the winter months.
Falls often occur when seniors try to get something that’s just out of their reach. Check that everyday objects are easy to reach, for example pots and pans in the kitchen, and towels in the bathroom.
Your pharmacy team can help you choose the right equipment to prevent falls and can order specific equipment if it isn’t in stock at the pharmacy. In many cases, you can rent the equipment if it is for temporary uses or simply to try out before a purchase.
Your pharmacist is the medication expert who can review the medication therapy to identify potential medications that may cause falls and minimize the risk by recommending an alternative. Don’t hesitate to talk about your fall prevention needs to your pharmacist!