Falls are a leading cause of injury among the elderly. Each year, more than a third of seniors above 65 years old experience a fall which can result in serious physical injuries such as bone fractures and head trauma. The risk of falls increases as one grows older with the following factors increasing the fall risk:
- Poor vision
- Poor balance
- Slow reaction time
- Muscle weakness or joint problems
- Poor memory
- Alcohol consumption
- Physical inactivity
- Poor diet and nutrition
- Consumption of medications that cause drowsiness and dizziness
- Having medical conditions that increases the risk of falls such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, dementia, diabetes, arthritis and urinary incontinence.
- Places with poor lighting, slippery floors or tripping hazards that increases the risk of an elderly falling.
However, some falls can be prevented with simple changes to the elderly’s lifestyle, routines and home environment.
1) Exercise regularly
Encourage the elderly to do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week including strength and balance exercises to maintain their balance, muscle strength and flexibility. You can view a step-by-step guide on easy exercises for the elderly here.
2) Be aware of medication side effects
As some medications can cause drowsiness, it is important to know the side effects of the medications the elderly is taking and consult the doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure.
3) Go for regular eye checkups
The elderly should have their eyes checked once a year to ensure they are not suffering from any eye conditions such as glaucoma or cataracts which could affect their vision and increase the risk of falling. They should also wear separate glasses for reading and moving around.
4) Remove any environmental hazards
By keeping your home safe and neat and removing slipping and tripping hazards, you can prevent the elderly from falling at home. For instance, use non-slip rubber mats or anti-slip floor tiles to prevent accidental falls in the bathroom, and install grab bars in the toilet so the elderly can hold on to them for additional support.
In addition, keep your house clutter-free so that the elderly doesn’t trip over household items, and consider placing a lamp by their bedside so they can easily switch on the light when they need to go to the bathroom at night. Lastly, place commonly used items in areas that are easy to reach.
If your elderly family member is assessed to have a high risk of falls, history of falls or has a visual impairment, you should consult an occupational therapist for home assessment and modification intervention.
5) Wear well-fitting non-slip shoes
Seniors are advised to wear well-fitting, flat shoes with slip-resistant soles to reduce falls. Avoid wearing slippers and shoes without heel support as they may not hold firmly to the elderly’s feet.
6) Consuming sufficient calcium in their diet
Finally, ensure that the elderly has a healthy, calcium-rich diet to prevent them from becoming frail. Calcium is not only important for strong bones and teeth, but also the proper functioning of the heart, muscles and nerves.
The recommended daily intake of calcium for adults is generally 1000mg per day. Females over 50 years old and seniors above 70 years old require slightly more calcium, with a recommended intake of 1200mg per day.
Food rich in calcium include dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese. But there are other non-dairy foods such as sardines, tofu, almonds, soy beans, broccoli, kai lan and chye sim that are rich in calcium as well. If the elderly does not drink milk or eat calcium-rich foods, they can consider talking calcium and vitamin D supplements.
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