One in four Americans aged 65 and older fall each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Also, every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall.
Diane Menges, community wellness coordinator at Judson Senior Living in Cleveland, and Shalom Plotkin, owner of Right at Home in Beachwood, said fall risks exist year-round.
“The most common place to fall is outside of the house because you’re typically more comfortable in your home environment,” Plotkin said. “Tripping over curbs, broken pavement and holes, that sort of thing. Just because it’s summer, doesn’t mean the hazards aren’t there.”
Menges said the summer brings its own unique fall hazards.
“When you’re dealing with heat, it can really affect people,” she said. “You have to be very careful when you’re standing around that your blood pressure doesn’t drop. Heat can exacerbate that. It’s a different type of falling as it becomes more of a balance issue. The same risks you have in the winter, you’re still going to have those. Whether it be rugs or uneven sidewalks, those don’t go away.”
In order to keep falls to a minimum, Menges suggested seniors work on their balance.
“Make sure when you’re standing that you have a good hold of yourself,” she said. “Take your time with it. Pay attention when you’re walking places so that you don’t make fast turnarounds or turn your head too quickly. A general self-awareness is important.”
Plotkin said seniors could call their doctor to see whether there should be health and wellness adjustments.
“To cut down falls, check your glasses prescription and look at how your medications interact,” he said. “That can cause confusion, dizziness or vertigo. Sometimes, it’s adjusting one’s footwear. If there are shoes with a loose heel on it or the tread has worn down, wear a different pair of shoes or get those repaired.”
If a family member is concerned about their senior loved one, both professionals said he or she has a role to play.
“The goal isn’t to make lots and lots of changes at the same time,” Plotkin said. “Pick one thing which you see as the biggest concern because too much change can be confusing. Have a discussion, listen, understand where the challenge is coming from and make suggestions. Just focus on one thing at a time as to not overwhelm them.”
“When you’re in that person’s home, make sure you don’t leave your shoes out in the middle of the room or other things the person isn’t used to looking for,” Menges said. “Just be more of a help than anything, but definitely, keep their walkways obstacle free.”
If a senior does suffer a fall, it can affect his or her emotional well-being. As to not be discouraged, Plotkin said stay confident.
“Besides having physical bruises, you can bruise your ego,” he said. “I suggest seniors talk about it and communicate with the folks they trust. Build the confidence back up and maybe get one of those emergency alert systems. The goal is communication and then try to analyze where and why it happened and what you can do to prevent it from happening again.”
Menges said preventing falls is about personal discipline.
“Preventing is a matter of being aware of your limitations,” she said. “Also, know your options. You have to be more diligent with yourself, and the more someone pays attention to that, the less likely he or she will fall.”