Preventing Falls in the Elderly

 


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As a registered nurse and caregiver of the elderly for almost 15 years, one of the most disturbing problems I have seen has been fall related injuries. Over and over again, I have seen life jerked out from under elderly people in the blink of an eye due to fractured hips, head injuries, and multiple internal problems that could have been prevented. The Center for Disease Control has published the following statistics:

More than one-third of adults ages 65 years and older fall each year (Hornbrook 1994; Hausdorff 2001).
Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths (Murphy 2000) and the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma (Alexander 1992).
In 2003 more than 1.8 million seniors age 65 and older were treated in emergency departments for fall-related injuries and more than 421,000 were hospitalized (CDC 2005).

In 2002, nearly 13,000 people ages 65 and older died from fall-related injuries (CDC 2004). More than 60% of people who die from falls are 75 and older (Murphy 2000).
Of those who fall, 20% to 30% suffer moderate to severe injuries such as hip fractures or head traumas that reduce mobility and independence, and increase the risk of premature death (Sterling 2001).
Among people ages 75 years and older, those who fall are four to five times more likely to be admitted to a long-term care facility for a year or longer (Donald 1999).
Falls are a leading cause of traumatic brain injuries (Jager 2000). Among older adults, the majority of fractures are caused by falls (Bell 2000).

Approximately 3% to 5% of older adult falls cause fractures (Cooper 1992; Wilkins 1999). Based on the 2000 census, this translates to 360,000 to 480,000 fall-related fractures each year. These statistics make one realize how essential it is to protect our elderly population from becoming another number to add to the list.

As the owner of Servant's Heart Homemaker Services, we strive to do everything we can to make the homes of our clients a safe and secure environment for them. Here are some suggestions to follow in order to do the same for your loved ones as well:

Make sure all rooms are well lit and light switches are easy to reach, even when getting up out of bed. Keep a flash light in more than one place that's easy to find in emergencies Make sure stairways are secure by installing hand rails and ensuring good lighting that's easy to control at both ends of the stairway. Make sure that carpeting is not loose or frayed on stairways.

Secure the bathroom with grab bars and bath mats and/or safety strips in the tub or shower. Provide a shower bench. Elevated toilet seats can be very helpful for taller individuals, along with grab bars around the toilet.

Keep clutter to a minimum; make sure there are no telephone or electrical cords in pathways throughout the house. Tack rugs and glue vinyl flooring to prevent tripping. Make certain that all rugs or runners have non-slip backing – or better yet, remove them completely, if possible Encourage your loved ones to wear nonslip, low-heeled shoes or slippers that properly fit their feet. Tell them to never walk around in stocking feet.

Provide a walker or cane if necessary. Make sure they stay seated when feeling dizzy or lightheaded, and remind them to stand up slowly. Some medications , including over the counter medicines, can cause drowsiness and/or an unsteady gait. Be sure your loved one is aware when taking these medications, and takes extra precautions to prevent injuries. Remember outside hazards; paint stairs with a mixture of sand and paint for better traction. Keep outdoor walkways and entrances clear, well-lit, and free of snow and ice.

Take your loved one for regular eye and hearing exams. Poor eyesight can be hazardous when ambulating. Inner ear problems can cause dizziness and affect balance.

Make sure your loved ones get regular exercise to strengthen muscles. Limit alcohol intake to avoid unsteadiness.

Finally, be sure to provide them with a personal emergency response service to ensure that they can get help should they experience a fall. These systems are available through a variety of different businesses, and are essential in providing security for older people who live at home alone.

Implementation of these suggestions will require a great deal of effort, but may help your elderly loved one live safely at home and enjoy years of good living ahead of them.

Jo Nelson is a registered nurse and co-owner of Servant's Heart Homemaker Services located here in Logansport. Servant's Heart provides companion services for the elderly in their homes.

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