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Helping Your Older Loved One Prevent Falls

It’s a call many adult children dread: “Mom fell. She’s in the emergency room.” Sadly, 1 in 4 older adults falls each year, making falls the leading cause of injuries for people aged 65+.

But falls are not a normal part of aging and they can be prevented. 

If you have an older parent, grandparent, or neighbor in your life, helping them reduce their risk of falling is a great way to keep them healthy and independent. Here are six easy steps you can take:

1. Start the conversation

Many older adults recognize that falling is a risk, but they believe it won’t happen to them or they won’t get hurt — even if they’ve already fallen in the past. Begin by talking about it. 

A good way to start is by taking the National Council on Aging’s Falls Free CheckUp. The online screening asks 12 simple questions, then provides a personalized falls risk score and tips to reduce your risk. It’s also available in Spanish at ncoa.org/ChequeoContraCaidas. NCOA also offers a free Falls Prevention Conversation Guide for Caregivers.

2. Discuss current health conditions

Ask about your older loved one’s health. Falls are more common among people who have certain conditions like diabetes, arthritis, or heart disease. Managing these conditions can prevent falls. 

Is it getting more difficult for your loved one to do things they used to do easily? Encourage them to get their Medicare Annual Wellness Visit and speak openly with their healthcare provider about their conditions and concerns.

3. Take them for an eye checkup and hearing test

If your older loved one wears glasses, make sure they have a current prescription and they’re using the glasses as advised by their eye doctor. For those already struggling with low vision, consult with a low-vision specialist for ways to make the most of their eyesight. Hearing and balance are related, so getting an annual hearing test and addressing hearing impairment are also important.

4. Observe how they move

If your older loved one is holding onto furniture or someone else when walking, or if they appear to have difficulty walking or rising from a chair, it might be time to see a physical therapist. A trained therapist can help improve their balance, strength, and gait through exercise. They might also suggest a cane or walker, and provide guidance on proper fit and how best to use these aids.

5. Talk about medications

If your older loved one is having a hard time keeping track of or remembering to take medicines, or is experiencing side effects, encourage them to discuss their concerns with their doctor and pharmacist. Daytime sleepiness, dizziness, low blood pressure, and blurry vision are common side effects linked to falls. 

Also, beware of non-prescription medications that contain sleep aids — including painkillers with “PM” in their names. They can lead to balance issues and dizziness. If your older loved one is having sleeping problems, encourage them to talk to their doctor or pharmacist about safer alternatives.

6. Do a home safety assessment

There are many simple and inexpensive ways to make a home safer. For professional assistance, consult an occupational therapist. Here are some examples:

  • Lighting: Increase lighting throughout the house, especially at the top and bottom of stairs, and in the path between the bedroom and bathroom.
  • Stairs: Make sure there are two secure rails on all stairs.
  • Bathrooms: Install grab bars in the tub/shower and near the toilet. For even greater safety, consider using a shower chair and hand-held shower.
  • Remove trip hazards. Make sure things like shoes, newspapers, and books are not left on steps or common pathways. Remove scatter rugs. Tape down or move electrical cords behind furniture. 

Help your older loved one stay safe and independent by sharing these falls prevention tips. Start today by visiting ncoa.org/FallsFreeCheckUp.

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