House Calls: Think ahead to prevent falls at home

By Beverly Sutter January 16, 2012 03:58 pm

Editor’s note: House Calls runs every other Saturday. Today’s column is written by Beverly Sutter, physical therapy supervisor at Sutter Coast Hospital.

According to the Center for Disease Control, one in every three adults over the age of 65 and older falls each year.

Falls are the leading cause of injury and death among older adults. Most fractures among older adults are caused by falls. The most common are fractures of the spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm and hand; 90 percent of hip fractures last year were a result of a fall.  The chances of falling and being seriously injured increase with age. Women are more likely to be injured in a fall compared to men. 

Did you know that a fear of falling is a red flag that you are at a risk of fall?

Causes of falls can be balance problems, foot problems, poor coordination, medication effects, poor eyesight, clutter in the home, loose rugs, electrical line or oxygen lines in the pathway, uneven floors or thresholds, poor lighting or equipment in poor working condition.

There has been a lot of research done in relation to falls and fall prevention. There also are proven indicators to identify whether you are a risk of falling. Some of those indicators are if you:

• are older than 65

• have fallen in the last three months

• have incontinence

• have visual impairment

• have impaired functional mobility

• have environmental hazards in the home

• take more than four prescription drugs

• have chronic pain

• have cognitive impairment. 

While we cannot change our age, we can impact the other indicators. We can strategize how to avoid serious falls.

For example, in your home you can remove clutter from pathways, remove throw rugs, keep night lights and flashlights in all rooms, fasten loose carpets to the floor, raise the height of your chairs (get furniture risers at the hardware store) and wear sensible shoes with non-skid soles.

In your bedroom you should position the bed for easy access with room enough for a walker to get to the side of the bed. You should keep your walker next to your bed and consistently use it if you have these risks. Make sure the bed is at a height that is not too high or too low. If the bed is too low, get risers from the hardware store. If the bed is too high, perhaps you can take the wheels off and that would lower the bed.  Use a lamp or light switches that you can easily reach without getting in or out of bed.

In your bathroom use a bath bench and a hand-held shower head. Install non-slip adhesive strips or a shower mat. Install grab bars in the shower, tub and near the toilet seat to help you get up. You can also use an elevated toilet seat with arm supports if necessary. These things can all be bought at your local hardware store and are not cost-prohibitive. 

Regularly review all your prescriptions with your doctor. Take the bottles with you when you go. Drugs associated with fall risks are sedatives, anti-depressants, tranquilizers, narcotics, blood pressure, cardiac and diabetic medication.

Have someone check in daily with people who are home-bound, or have Lifeline installed in their home. 

Keep active! Exercise is important to maintain and improve your strength, balance and mobility. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Join a gym. Go to the pool. Go for a walk with a friend. Stop parking so close to the door at the store and walk a little farther each time. Walk around in the store. Do some exercises with your arms by reaching over your head and behind your back. Stand up and march in place during TV commercials. Hold onto the kitchen counter and go up and down on your toes (our ankles are our first muscles to get weak as we get older — no wonder we trip!). 

Our aim is your independence, in as safe an environment as possible.

Email suggestions for future House Calls columns to Beth Liles at Sutter Coast Hospital, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it