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My 79-year-old mother, who lives alone, has fallen several times over the past year. Are there any extra precautions we should take that can help prevent this?
Falls are a big concern for many elderly seniors and their families. Each year, one in three older Americans fall, making it the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for those age 65 and older. Many falls can be prevented. Depending on what is causing your mom to fall, here are some different tips that can help protect her.
Encourage exercise: Weak leg muscles and poor balance are two of the biggest risk factors that cause seniors to fall. Tai chi, walking, water aerobics and strength training are all good for improving balance and strength. There are also a number of simple balance exercises that she can do anytime, like standing on one foot for 30 seconds then switching to the other foot, or walking heel-to-toe across the room.
For additional balance and leg strengthening exercises, the National Institute on Aging offers free exercise guides at Go4Life.nia.nih.gov.
Review her medications: Does your mom take any medicine, or combination of medicines, that makes her dizzy, sleepy or lightheaded? If so, gather up all the drugs she takes, both prescription and over-the-counter, and bring them to her doctor or pharmacist for a drug review and adjustment.
Get her vision checked: Poor vision can be another contributor to falls, so ask your mom to have her eyes checked every year. She may be wearing the wrong glasses or developing a condition such as glaucoma or cataracts that makes it harder to see obstacles on the floor.
Modify her home: There are also simple household modifications you can do to make your mom's living area safer. Start by arranging or moving the furniture so there are clear pathways to walk through. Pick up items on the floor that could cause her to trip, like newspapers, shoes, clothes, power cords and phone cords. If she has throw rugs, remove them or use double-sided tape to secure them.
Buy some non-skid rugs for the bathroom floors and a rubber suction-grip mat or adhesive non-skid tape for the floor of the tub or shower. Have a carpenter install grab bars in and around the tub and shower for support.
Make sure the lighting throughout the house is good. Purchase some inexpensive plug-in nightlights for the bathrooms and hallways, and if she has stairs, put handrails on both sides.
For more tips, the U.S. Administration on Aging offers a free "Preventing Falls at Home" brochure, available at Eldercare.acl.gov. You can also hire an occupational therapist to come in and assess your mom's home for fall risks. Medicare may pay for this service if it is prescribed by a doctor.
Choose safe footwear: Your mom should be aware that going barefoot or wearing slippers or socks at home can also cause falls, as can wearing backless shoes, high heels and shoes with smooth leather soles. The safest options are rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes.
Purchase some helpful aids: If your mom needs some help, talk to her doctor or a physical therapist about getting her fit for a cane or walker.
To help ensure your mom's safety and provide you some peace of mind, get her a medical alert device. For a modest cost, many alert services offer a wearable emergency alert button, usually in the form of a necklace pendant or wristband. Additional options may include wall-mounted buttons placed in high fall risk areas like the bathroom and kitchen. Your mom could call for help anytime if she were to fall or need assistance.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.