September 23 through 29, 2015 is Fall Prevention Awareness Week in California, falling, as it does every year since 2008, on the first week of fall. All puns aside, fall prevention is serious business for seniors, caregivers and homecare companions, given that falls are the leading cause of accidents, injury deaths, and hospital admissions for trauma for people over 60. Both internal and external factors can contribute to falls, so addressing all these aspects of your loved one’s home environment and lifestyle are crucial to fall prevention. ‘Take A Stand To Prevent Falls’ is 2015’s theme for the community groups, professional organizations, and government agencies who will be participating in Falls Prevention Awareness Day on September 23rd, the official first day of fall. Sponsored by the National Council on Aging, the program includes messages on Home Safety, Assistive Devices, Outdoor Falls, Medication Awareness, Vision, Talking with Your Doctor About Fall Risks, and Preventing Falls with Pets.

One of the leading health concerns for people over the age of 60 is falling, which can often be linked to balance problems. Twenty to 40 percent of adults over 65 who live at home suffer a fall every year. The consequences of falls can be disastrous; anywhere from 12 to 67 percent of elderly adults who fracture a hip die within one year. Controlling the environmental factors that contribute to falls is one of the first stages in fall prevention. Here are some ways to ‘fall-proof’ a loved one’s home:

  • Remove anything that Mom or Dad can trip over, such as cords, pet bowls, clutter, area rugs, or unexpected footstools.
  • Widen the spaces between the furniture, and clear the stairs, hallways and pathways.
  • Remove unnecessary area rugs, or use double-sided tape to lock them down tight.
  • Make the shower, tub, tile floors, and any slippery flooring non-slip with rubber mats or non-slip-strips.
  • Stay away from puddles, patches of ice, or super-slick floors! (This is good advice for any age!)
  • Don’t walk around in the dark, whether inside or outside. Add lamps, increase wattage, and carry a flashlight on the way to the potty.
  • Install handrails and grab bars along stairwells and in the bathroom
  • Move the stuff on the top shelf within reach.

Even in a fall-proofed home, poor balance, strong medication, and vertigo caused by other medical conditions can still trip you up – literally! Staying stable, strong, and flexible is the best way to preserve good balance, which in turn is the best way to prevent falls and the associated traumas in the first place.

Balance in walking and standing is dependent on many factors. Maintaining proper balance requires dependable sensory input from the eyes, the balance system of the inner ear (the vestibular system), and the sensors of position and movement in the feet and legs (proprioceptors). The elderly are prone to a variety of diseases that affect these systems. Vision is impacted by glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy impairs the position sense in the feet and legs. Overall degeneration of the vestibular system affects balance, walking and spatial sense. Balance is also dependent on good muscle strength and joint mobility. An inactive lifestyle, or diseases like arthritis, or other bone and muscles diseases can impair strength and mobility.

Although the problem of imbalance in older persons can be complex, the stakes are high. Fall prevention is a crucial part of caring for a loved one, and there are a few simple precautions that everyone can follow to help ensure an active old age. Maintaining a fall-proofed environment, supporting healthy balance in standing and walking with sound nutritional and health habits, and bolstering overall good physical condition are ways to keep your loved one upright and moving. Fall Prevention Awareness Week happens once a year but fall prevention is a daily enterprise for caregivers and home care companions alike.