January 3, 2023
As we age, our bodies become less forgiving of mistakes and excesses; things no longer run like clockwork. We notice these changes in our parents and grandparents first, as they become more susceptible to a variety of ailments. That is why, as current or potential caregivers, we must arm ourselves with the knowledge and tools necessary to prevent significant health problems, especially preventing falls at home.
Read on to discover the causes of tripping and falling, the simple and effective precautions you can take to minimize injuries from falls, and the role technology can play in assisting older adults to prevent falls.
Falls affect one in every four older citizens in the United States. The causes of tripping and falling are quite complex; they are often a combination of various risk factors.
The following are the most common causes of falls:
In adults over 60, age-related macular degeneration is one of the main causes of vision loss. While there are no complete preventative strategies, leading a healthy lifestyle can help extend one's healthy vision significantly.
Our inner ear is in charge of maintaining our sense of balance. That is why, when we have an ear infection, it can affect our walking and balance. Furthermore, research shows that every additional 10-decibels of hearing loss raises the risk of falling by 1.4 times.
So, the correlation between hearing loss and falls is not coincidental.
Injuries from falls can include limb or hip fractures, and even spinal cord and brain injuries. Falls are also one of the main causes of death among the elderly. But even when the injuries are minor, older people tend to socially withdraw to avoid future accidents.
With over 700,000 hospitalizations every year due to falls, the CDC estimates that over $50 billion is spent on medical costs. The human cost of falls is invaluable, however; it’s enough to think about the distress among patients and their families and the loss of lives.
The good news is that falls can be avoided.
As a caretaker, there is a lot that you can do to help your elderly loved ones live a safe and independent life as much as possible.
As mentioned before, there are a plethora of issues to address. That is why the solution entails improving one’s lifestyle as a whole and being up-to-date with your loved ones’ medical tests and treatments.
How many times have we heard people say things like “this is simply a headache” or “I’m having trouble sleeping,“ and then do nothing about it? The truth is that you should never disregard your body's warnings.
Remember that, as a caregiver, you are also your elderly parent’s advocate. Keep their personal health record (PHR) up to date, ask all the pertinent questions, and assist in making the best decisions for their well-being.
It is essential to seek the advice of a medical professional with geriatric care experience because they are familiar with the unique needs of older bodies.
Do not be afraid to ask questions during your appointments, and seek a second opinion if you are unsure about a course of action.
Questions can include:
Elderly people have much more sensitive bodies; they metabolize food and substances differently than when they were young. They also don’t absorb nutrients as well from food (thus they may need supplements) and are more prone to food poisoning due to a weaker immune system.
It is strongly advised to take extra care to prevent the spread of bacteria or to avoid consuming unhealthy or spoiled food.
B12, B6, and folate deficiency are all prevalent vitamin deficiencies in seniors, and they’re critical for cognitive function.
Vitamin D is another common deficiency in older adults, and it’s extremely important for supporting bone health and avoiding the risk of fractures and other injuries from falls. According to studies, by the age of 70, our ability to synthesize vitamin D is only approximately half of what it was when we were 20 years old.
But keep in mind that before taking any supplements, you consult with their doctor.
One common problem caregivers face is that by overprotecting their ageing parents, they unknowingly encourage them to live a sedentary lifestyle. Ironically, that will cause all sorts of health issues that increase the risk of falls. They also run the risk of becoming reliant on others later in life.
With a gentle nudge from you, here’s what your parents can do, instead, to protect their health and avoid falling:
Gardening is a perfect example of a fairly simple but active hobby. Besides the opportunity to exercise, connecting with nature is a good mindfulness practice.
Finding a local group that shares your interests can do wonders for your mood while also keeping you physically active.
This has numerous benefits, including boosting bone density (thus preventing osteoporosis), preventing muscular atrophy, enhancing metabolism, and lowering the risk of heart disease. In truth, all of these characteristics are necessary for maintaining a healthy body and preventing falls at home.
Many are tempted to start cardio exercises for the purpose of improving their health, but it actually might be a better idea to practice strength training. For seniors, this type of exercise is less taxing on their body, so it’s an easier way to start their fitness journey.
Here is an example of a gentle exercise routine for beginners, requiring no fitness equipment. If your parents are ready for something a bit more challenging, there are lots of videos on YouTube that they can follow a few times a week.
Make sure to consult with your doctor before starting a new routine!
They improve stability, reaction time, and attentiveness, all of which are key to preventing falls at home.
The Mayo Clinic Foundation provides some useful suggestions for balance exercises to try, like Tai Chi.
There are a number of things you can do to improve your elderly parents’ living conditions.
Here are a few examples:
• Make sure the tables and chairs are sturdy;
• Have sensor-activated lighting and increase the wattage — seniors need three times more light than younger people;
• Install grab bars and ramps as needed;
• Use non-slip rubber mats in the kitchen and bathroom.
For more suggestions, consult this checklist made by AARP, to help avoid serious injury from falls, as well as to see what costs you can expect for various home improvements.
Smart home technology to help older adults reduce the risk of injuries from falls can be classified in two ways:
Monitoring equipment and other helpful devices come in many forms and are available for various budgets.
Devices that have fall detection sensors, for example fall alert pendants (or PERS, Personal Emergency Response System), automatically send notifications to caregivers or local authorities in case of a fall. They do, however, present some significant drawbacks, making them less effective than they appear:
Unfortunately, there is a stigma associated with wearing such a device. Elderly people do not feel empowered by it; instead, they feel old and vulnerable. That is why, oftentimes, they prefer not to wear it at all.
A noteworthy breakthrough in fall prevention is the technology based on Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.
CareAlert, the product that we first developed to keep our own loved ones safe, can help seniors maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, while also keeping caregivers updated on their wellbeing.
For example, if the device doesn’t sense the senior getting out of bed and going to the kitchen as normal in the morning, CareAlert will notify the caregiver. That way, they would know that they need to check up on their loved one;
The technology that helps older adults is here, and it’s getting better all the time. There is also room for improvement in our own education and participation as carers, medical professionals, and higher authorities in order to prioritize our loved ones’ safety.
If you are looking for a good monitoring system to accompany your elderly parents in their journey towards a healthy and independent lifestyle, you can read more about CareAlert and how it works on our website. Don’t hesitate to contact us for any additional support.
Important: The information we provide in the article does not replace a medical consultation. Always talk to your primary care doctor before making any change in your diet, exercise regimen, or medical treatment.