According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls among seniors result in $28 billion a year in medical costs. A third of elderly Americans (65 and older) fall each year, resulting in almost 20,000 deaths and two million trips to the emergency room. If you are a caregiver for an elderly person, no doubt falls are a concern. Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand conducted a thorough investigation that involved 159 trails with nearly 80,000 participants in search of the best fall prevention. Consider some of their findings.
- Get moving. Researchers found the biggest factor in reducing falls was exercise, both strength and balance training. Results showed increased exercise decreased the number of falls by 30 percent and the number of people falling by 20 percent.
- Get a home safety assessment. Having an occupational therapist inspect the home and suggest preventive measures also proved effective. Around 38,000 falls treated in the ER each year are blamed on an elderly person tripping over a rug or carpet. Bathroom falls account for a third of the incidents. Preventive measures suggested by the researchers included removing or taping down small rugs, installing better lighting and making bathroom modifications, such as grab bars in the tub, non-slip mats, using a shower bench or chair, and installing a raised toilet seat.
- Consider underlying medical conditions and medications. Falls are not always the result of weakness and loss of balance. Other medications and conditions can contribute. For example, researchers found that taking seniors off their psychiatric medications reduced their fall rates by two-thirds. Cataract surgery decreased fall rates in women and getting a pacemaker decreased falls for people with certain heart problems. Talk to your senior's physician about fall concerns and any other treatments or medication adjustments that may lower his or her fall risk.
Being a caregiver is a challenging role. However, take advantage of the caregiver support available. Reach out to other caregivers or family members that may be able to help. Lastly, don't overlook simple modifications that could make your family member safer.