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.
What Are the Causes of Tripping and Falling?
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:
• Cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy are examples of eye diseases that can lead to blindness if left untreated.
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.
• There is a link between hearing loss and falls which probably isn’t so obvious.
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 raise the risk of falling by 1.4 times.
So, the correlation between hearing loss and falls is not coincidental.
• Poor sleep quality – Having numerous causes of its own, sleep deprivation can lead to a loss of alertness;
• Cardiovascular disease – can lead to loss of consciousness and accidents due to diminished blood flow to the brain (syncope), for example;
• Household hazards – Anything like slippery floors or shoes can increase the risk of falling;
The True Cost of Falls
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.
A Holistic and Proactive Approach to Elderly Care is Key to Preventing Falls at Home
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.
1. Do Regular Check-Ups and Don’t Ignore the Small Issues.
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:
• How long should they take the treatment? What are the alternatives?
• Does the proposed medication negatively interact with other pills they take?
2. Ensure that Your Parents Eat Nutritious Meals and Supplement if Necessary
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.
3. Encourage Your Parents to Be More Active — It’s Never Too Late to Start!
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:
Start a hobby that gets them to move their body
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.
Engage in strength training for seniors
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!
Include special balance exercises for seniors in their 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.
4. Maintain a Safe Living Environment to Prevent Accidents and Injuries From Falls
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.
Latest Technology to Help Older Adults in Preventing Falls at Home
Smart home technology to help older adults reduce the risk of injuries from falls can be classified in two ways:
• devices that respond quickly in case of a fall, alerting caregivers or local authorities of an accident;
• devices that aid indirectly, meaning they support a healthy and independent lifestyle.
Monitoring equipment and other helpful devices come in many forms and are available for various budgets.
There are numerous devices with fall detection sensors on the market. Fall alert pendants (or PERS, Personal Emergency Response System), for example, 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:
→ They are not always able to distinguish between typical movement and falls, resulting in false alarms that place unnecessary stress on caregivers, authorities, and seniors alike;
→ According to a study conducted by the University of Tübingen, in Germany, 24% of PERS users never wear their alarm pendants or wristbands and only 14% of users wear them for 24 hours a day. Furthermore, 83% of seniors are not able to press the alarm button after a fall, rendering the device useless.
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 is the product that we first developed to keep our own loved ones safe. It can help seniors maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, while also keeping caregivers updated on their wellbeing.
→ First, it can be your eyes and ears when you’re not there with your parents. It alerts you of anything abnormal in their behaviour or living conditions;
→ Second, it can provide a sort of ‘virtual assistance’ for your parents. It reminds them to take their medicine on time, it keeps a light on to avoid tripping and falling at night, and it connects with you for a chat;
→ Third, in the event of a fall, CareAlert doesn’t detect it in the way that a PERS gadget does. Instead, it alerts the caregiver of any inactivity period.
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;
→ Fourth, CareAlert can be programmed to send notifications if no activity is detected during specific periods. Thus, it can be better aligned with the elderly’s particular schedule;
→ Most of all, it’s a discreet monitoring device that requires no intervention on the senior’s part. There is no button pressing and no unpleasant psychological strain from wearing a physical reminder on their wrist that they may be prone to falls.
Are We Doing Enough in Preventing Falls at Home?
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.