Falling can be a serious problem for your loved one and you as his or her caregiver. Some causes of falling include neurological or balance disorders, cardiovascular problems like high or low blood pressure, side effects from medications, and visual impairments. Even normal aging changes effect balance and coordination. It is important to have your loved one evaluated by a physician to identify the cause. Once the reason for falling has been established, precautions must be taken to keep your loved one safe.
Do a thorough assessment of the home using your common sense to guide you. Seek out and get rid of all throw rugs. Yes, they hide many evils but are hazards to slip and trip on. Check that electric cords are run securely along baseboards and do not extend into walking areas. What is the clutter situation like? Now is the time to purge the home of years of accumulated “stuff” and lessen the chances of walking into or tripping over it. Take a good look at the furniture arrangement. Is there a clear path for walking? Are there sharp edges that could cause injury from a fall? Vision diminishes with age and more light is needed to see so check all rooms for lighting. Are they well lit with few dark areas? Stairs are a fall hazard at any time. Install handrails on both sides of a staircase and check that current railings are solidly secured to the walls.
Is there a grab bar in the tub or shower and one next to the toilet? Temporary clamp-on style grab bars are available and relatively inexpensive. A non-skid tub mat and hand-held shower wand are essentials. A raised toilet seat should be standard in each bathroom unless your loved one is short. We short people do not like our feet to dangle in mid air.
Shoes are another matter of consideration. They should be worn in the home, not just when going out. Slippers, stockings, socks, or bare feet are set-ups for falls. Shoes should be well fitted and sturdy, enclose the whole foot, be secured with Velcro straps or tie-laces, and have none-skid soles. Sneakers or tennis shoes lend poor support and their toes catch on carpets and floors. If your loved one shuffles, leather soled shoes are recommended. If he or she has bunions, hammertoes, or arthritis, check with a podiatrist about orthopedic shoes.
Assistive ambulatory equipment may also be needed. A cane or walker can provide some defense against falling. A physical therapist can teach your loved one how to use one safely and also teach you how to prevent self-injury when assisting him or her. Ask the physician to refer your loved one to a physical therapist for “gait training” and fall prevention. Check with your love one’s insurance company about payment.
Remember, it is important to identify any medical cause for falling, do not assume it is just a normal occurrence with aging. Get your loved one evaluated as soon as possible.
God bless and keep up the good work.
Mary C. Fridley