Julie Hultman Overton
Senior Learning and Development Specialist, University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, Fall Prevention Center of Excellence
An aging population receiving more home care requires safety on all fronts to prevent falls. Here’s how to ensure your loved ones’ fall risk stays low.
Home is where the heart is — and where the heart often wishes to grow old. It’s also becoming the healthcare setting of the future, where most caregiving occurs. But homes are not always the most well-equipped setting, and that can impact an older adult’s chances of growing older safely.
One in four adults over 65 fall every year, and over half of all falls occur in the home. Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries for older adults and often result in hospitalization. And worse, one fall can lead to more falls, which increases caregiver stress and potential depression, and can also place caregivers at risk of falling themselves.
The good news is that fall risks can be reduced. Experts at the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology’s Fall Prevention Center of Excellence recommend three important steps:
- A medical risk assessment
- Physical activity
- A supportive home environment
Assess and plan
Our bodies change over time, and these changes increase fall risk. Risks include osteoporosis, being over 80 years old, changes in balance and vision, and medication interactions that increase vulnerability of falling. Make sure to review and address fall risk with a healthcare professional and make a plan of action to help reduce falls and provide peace of mind.
Work it out
Studies show that balance, flexibility, and strength training can reduce fall risks. Lack of exercise may make it harder for individuals to recover after a fall, yet people often reduce activity out of fear of falling again. Fortunately, engaging in low-impact exercise – such as tai chi or an in-home exercise program like Otago – can effectively prevent falls, especially when aligned with fall risk. Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
Reduce home hazards
The home itself can present fall hazards. Caregiving often involves physically straining tasks (e.g. heavy-lifting and turning, body transfers) that can jeopardize caregiver health and increase vulnerability to falls for both parties. Fortunately, taking steps to make simple home modifications can reduce risk and caregiver burdens and create a safer environment for providing assistance. Ramps for easy access, roll-in and handheld showers to assist with bathing, widened doorways for indoor transport, raised toilet seats for transfer ease, and even just removing clutter and improving lighting can all promote independence and ease physical demands faced by caregivers.
In taking these three key steps to reduce fall risk, you can make caregiving at home a safe and rewarding experience for everyone. To learn more about fall prevention, home modification, and caregiver resources, visit: www.homemods.org, gero.usc.edu, and www.fcsc.usc.edu/.