December 15, 2006
Do Grandma a favor, rid home of holiday fall hazards
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.--Don’t worry about Grandma getting run over by a reindeer this Christmas. She’s more likely to be done in by a decorative doormat.
“Anything that might trip the elderly can be deadly,” explains Susan Geiger, a physical therapist for Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson. “Falls are the No. 1 cause of fatal injuries for people over age 65, and 60 percent of falls occur in the home.”
The holiday season contributes to fall risks because many elderly are visiting homes that may not be “grandparent proof.”
“Senior citizens who are staying with younger family members might not be used to toys and toddlers underfoot,” Geiger said. “So holiday hosts need to take some time to identify and eliminate fall hazards.”
Geiger said common problems include electrical cords stretched across pathways, wobbly furniture, slippery throw rugs and clutter on the floor.
Homeowners can also prevent falls by adding safety features, such as hand rails in the stairwell, grab bars for shower stalls and brighter lighting indoors and out.
Senior citizens, in turn, need to be aware that certain physical conditions contribute to falls. For instance, the National Institutes of Health says more than 90 percent of hip fractures are associated with osteoporosis.
To reduce this fracture risk, NIH recommends senior citizens take adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, exercise several times a week and ask their physicians about medications that slow bone loss. Seniors also are urged to get a bone density test.
Other physical conditions that may make the elderly more likely to fall include poor vision, gait and balance disorders and fainting caused by cardiovascular diseases. Ailments that affect the legs and feet, such as arthritis, muscle weakness and nerve damage, also play a role.
Geiger recommends a balance assessment for people who complain of unsteadiness. It’s a good fall prevention measure because it can pinpoint problems with vision, the inner ear or inadequate input from the joints and feet. “If we can isolate the cause, we may be able to prescribe physical therapy that gets rid of the problem once and for all,” she said.
Pauline T. Seward of Raymond, a victim of four falls this year, recently spent several weeks at Methodist Rehab recovering from an October tumble that fractured the femur in her right leg. The 83-year-old worked on improving her strength and balance, as well as learning ways to prevent future falls.
“We told her whenever she goes from lying down to sitting or from sitting to standing to take time to let her blood pressure adjust,” said Julie Riley, a physical therapist at Methodist Rehab. “This helps prevent dizziness.”
Occupational therapist Tina Weaver said Seward also was taught to use both hands to push herself up to a standing position and to lower herself into a sitting position. “We also encouraged her not to get in a rush.”
And the last lesson was a take-home message that is especially appropriate for the hectic holiday season. “We told her not to overdo,” Riley said. “When people are tired, they are most likely to fall.”
Fall Prevention Tips
- Remove things you can trip over (such as papers, books, clothes, and shoes) from the floor or stairs.
- Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep the rugs from slipping.
- Keep often-used items in cabinets that are easily reached without using a stepstool
- Have grab bars put in next to the toilet and in the tub or shower.
- Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors.
- Improve the lighting in your home. Older people often need brighter lights to see well. Lamp shades or frosted bulbs can reduce glare.
- Put handrails and lights in all staircases.
- Wear shoes that give good support and have thin non-slip soles. Avoid wearing slippers and athletic shoes with deep treads.
Source: Centers for Disease Control