Seniors need to be proactive toward safety
Sunday, November 03, 2013 9:00 PM
I've seen a fair number of elderly patients lately who have suffered injuries from falls. This is a very important topic because the older segment of our population is growing rapidly. In fact, 40 percent of deaths after the age of 65 are due to accidents in the home. There are many issues to look at when considering safety for seniors. Falls are probably the most concerning.
Dr. John Roberts is a Crawfordsville physician and one of the owners of The Paper. In addition to his weekly column, he writes a daily health tip that can be found on page A1.
Seniors are naturally more prone to falling and as a result, suffer many injuries. As we age our bones become weaker and our muscular fitness starts to decline. Reflexes start to slow down and dizziness and light-headedness become more common, particularly from medication side effects. Throw in decreases in vision, depth perception and hearing and you have a perfect recipe for disaster.
It is therefore very important for seniors to do everything they can to minimize their risk for falls. I usually recommend that throw rugs are removed from the home and if not, that they are taped down with double-sided carpet tape. Wood floors can be slick and should be covered with wall-to-wall carpeting if possible. This also provides extra padding in case of a fall.
Electrical cords and water hoses should be kept out of walking paths. Many of the falls I see patients for are the result of not using the cane or walker that was prescribed by their physician. These aids can really help with stability and safety.
Adequate home lighting is critical. Studies show that a person 80 years old requires two to three times more light to see well than a teenager does. Lighting should be overhead if possible, especially in stairways. Table lamps tend to cast shadows that make it hard to judge distance. It's also very important to have night lights that illuminate the way from the bedroom to the kitchen and bathroom for those late night snacks or trips to the toilet.
Stairs are a major hazard - I cringe every time one of my older patients tells me they do their laundry in the basement. Steps should be clearly marked with bright tape or paint, as should floors that change height between rooms. It's helpful if the tape is textured, especially the last stair, so the person can tell when they have reached the bottom. Handrails should be installed on each side of the stairway if possible. Never leave objects on steps or landings.
Furniture placement is also important. Avoid placing low-lying furniture like coffee tables, stools and hassocks near walkways. If you rearrange furniture, it's important for the older person to be made aware of the changes and to check and make sure navigation is not a problem.
The bathroom is another high-risk slip and fall environment. Wet floors are very hazardous. Carpeting or rugs (taped down) should be used. Bathtubs or showers should have non-slip floors or have non-skid stick-on decals or a tub mat with good suction cups. Shower chairs are helpful for those with balance problems as are grab bars around the tub and toilet.
I mentioned problems with dizziness and light-headedness. The ability to keep blood flowing to our brains when we stand diminishes with age. This is worsened by a number of medications. It's important to talk to your doctor if you're experiencing dizziness, especially after starting a new drug.
Along those lines, it's very important for ALL of your doctors, especially your family doctor or internist to know ALL the medications you are taking from EVERY doctor you see. This includes eye medication and over the counter medications. You should use only one pharmacy so they can check for drug interactions that are a major cause of injuries and deaths in seniors.
For those seniors who live alone, it's important to have some way to communicate with the outside world should you become disabled. It's no picnic being stranded on the floor all night with a broken hip or worse. Purchasing or renting a medallion to wear around the neck with a button that can be pressed to call for help is a good investment. At a minimum, you should have a cordless phone or cell phone with you in case of emergency.
For more information on senior safety, there is an excellent booklet available online at http://tinyurl.com/2eugppx