Most of us who are aging hope to live comfortably and self-sufficiently at home well into our golden years. And, of course, we wish the same for our parents.
The good news is advancements in healthcare and other technology are increasingly allowing aging Americans to live longer at home. The bad news is many are unable to continue to do so once they take a serious fall at home, injuring their hips, heads or other body parts. That’s an all-too-common problem: One in four Americans age 65 and older fall each year, and falling once doubles their chances of falling again, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Falls also are the number one cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults.
"We treat many older patients who lived happily and productively at home until they tripped and broke a hip," notes orthopaedic trauma surgeon and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) spokesperson Lisa Cannada, MD. "A broken hip or other fall-related injuries make it difficult for people to live at home again without assistance of some kind and loss of independence. With a little foresight and planning, many of these injuries could be prevented."
Several steps can be taken to prevent debilitating falls from ever taking place. Consider how the following tips may help you or your loved ones hold on to the comforts of home for a longer period of time:
* Recognize your risk. A number of health issues can make you or your parents more prone to falling, ranging from arthritis to neurological conditions to vision or hearing loss. Various medications, the use of alcohol or simple dehydration may also affect your ability to safely navigate your surroundings. But the more you’re aware of such possible hindrances, the more you can plan for them.
* Optimize your health. Take responsibility for staying as healthy and fit as possible by remaining active, drinking enough water, limiting alcohol, avoiding smoking and eating a healthy diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin D. Annual physicals, eye exams and bone density tests are recommended. Make exercise a priority, and choose something that you enjoy to maintain your bone health and coordination.
* Fall-proof your home. Walk through your home and that of your parents to identify and fix possible hindrances such as slippery surfaces, inadequate lighting, cluttered pathways, unsecured rugs, electric cords, loose flooring, etc. Consider installing grab bars in the shower, securing loose rugs with slip-resistant backings and installing bright motion-detector lights. You also might move clothes, kitchenware and other everyday gear within easier reach. The AAOS and Orthopaedic Trauma Association offer additional tips in this Falls Awareness and Prevention Guide.
* Wear the right shoes. Limit footwear to well-fitting, low-heeled shoes or slippers with rubber or other non-skid soles. Also watch for untied shoelaces.
* Maintain an action plan. If you live alone, have someone check on you daily. If you do fall, you may avoid further injury by using your arms to protect your head instead of trying to break your fall. If possible, fall on your side or buttocks and roll slightly. If you can’t get up after bracing yourself on a wall or furniture, call a friend, relative or 911 for help. Finally, consider wearing a medical alert device 24-7; you never know where and when you’ll need emergency help, and your cell phone may not always be available.
Many aging Americans are able to enjoy long, productive lives in their own homes instead of turning to other accommodations. Increase your chances of making that happen for you and your parents by taking steps to plan for and avoid an injury-producing fall. Find more tips at orthoinfo.org/falls.