COLLEGE STATION Falls are the No. 1 cause of injury-related deaths in people over the age of 65. But many of these deaths could be prevented if people just took out a little “insurance,” said Judy Warren, a gerontologist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.
To get this kind of “insurance,” people must take steps to clear their homes of danger zones.
“The people who recognize risks and are proactive about them are the most successful,” Warren said. “Think of things like grab bars, walking with a partner and reducing clutter as insurance.”
According to Warren, several daily situations present the most danger to people.
The most risky situation is going from bed to the bathroom during the night. Warren recommended that people use night lights.
“When someone wakes, that person needs to just sit up slowly and stay seated for a moment or two before rising to get their bearings and prevent dizziness. Next, if that person uses an assistive device like glasses or a walker during the day, those devices should also be used at night.”
Sometimes the medications people take to keep them well can actually contribute to a fall. Side effects such as dizziness, fatigue, confusion and drowsiness can increase risks.
“Review medications with a doctor or pharmacist,” she advised. “Tell them about over-the-counter medicines and herbal remedies you may also be taking. Next, ask your doctor to consider medicines that have a shorter half life. A shorter half life lowers the risk that the medication will build up in the body to a harmful toxic level.”
The living room can also present a hazard to older people.
First, the seats are often too low. Warren suggested adding a platform beneath furniture that doesn’t stick out or a cushion on top. Next, make sure there are no cords to trip on and get a cordless phone. For throw rugs or carpets that might curl up, use a strong, double-sided tape to adhere them to the surface of the floor. Or, get rid of them altogether. Make sure that carpets and walls are different colors it is easier to distinguish level changes. Get rid of clutter like old magazines and newspapers and keep any animal toys off the floor.
In the kitchen, take everything off the highest shelf or get a reacher or step ladder with a handle. Because older adults take one-third of all prescriptions, Warren suggested getting a medication organizer. There are several to chose from on the market some have bins for each day of the week, some have bins for the time of day for each day of the week, others lock while another has a verbal reminder when it’s time to take medication.
Bath time can also present some risky situations. Warren recommended that all tubs have bath mats and grab bars.
“You may not use them every time, but they’re there when you need them,” Warren said. “And remember shower curtains are not grab bars!”
Warren also had suggestions for the outside of a home. Steps should contrast so their levels are distinguishable. If a step can’t be painted, use white or yellow tape along the edge. Curbs can also be painted yellow.
Warren added that one of the best ways to fall proof a home is to have a professional come through and assess risks.
“Through your doctor, get a physical therapist or occupational therapist to examine your home and look at ways to reduce risk. It’s a good investment. And for people who have fallen before, this might be covered by insurance.
Decreased vision, longer reaction time, decreased physical activity and decreased bone density are physical changes that can occur with age. Psychologically, Warren said, older people feel they’re “giving in” to old age when they begin to use assistive devices.
“People need to change their beliefs. People need to tell themselves, I’m smart and I’m going to beat this with a little insurance.’ Using assistive devices and making the environment safer actually reduces the risk of falling.”