Q: Dear Savvy Senior,
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? — Worried Daughter
A: Dear Worried, Falls are a big concern for many elderly seniors and their families. Each year, 1-in-3 older Americans fall, making it the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for those age 65 and older. But many falls can be prevented. Depending on what’s causing your mom to fall, here are 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 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, and walking heel-to-toe across the room.
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For additional balance and leg strengthening exercises the National Institute on Aging offers free exercise guides and a DVD that you can order at Go4Life.nia.nih.gov.
Review her medications: Does your mom take any medicine, or combination of medicines, that make her dizzy, sleepy or lightheaded? If so, gather up all the drugs she takes — prescriptions and over-the-counter — and take 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 get your mom’s eyes checked every year. She may be wearing the wrong glasses or have developed a condition such as glaucoma or cataracts that make it harder to see obstacles on the floor.
Modify her home: There are a number of 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, and by picking up items on the floor that could cause her to trip, such as newspapers, shoes, clothes, electrical or phone cords.
If she has throw rugs, remove them or use double-sided tape to secure them.
In the bathroom, buy some non-skid rugs for the floors and a rubber suction-grip mat or adhesive non-skid tape for the floor of the tub or shower, and have a carpenter install grab bars in and around the tub/shower for support.
Also, 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, call the Eldercare Locater at 800-677-1116 and order a free copy of their “Preventing Falls at Home” brochure. Or, get an occupational therapist to come in and assess your mom’s home for fall risks. Medicare will pay for this service if it’s 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 option 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.
Also, to help ensure your mom’s safety, and provide you some peace of mind, get her a medical alert device like Bay Alarm Medical (BayAlarmMedical.com), one of the most reliable and affordable devices available today. For less than $1 per day, this offers an emergency alert button — either in the form of a necklace pendent, wristband or wall-mounted buttons placed in high fall risk areas like the bathroom and kitchen — so she can call for help any time if she falls or needs assistance.
Send your senior questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior.”