Falls are the biggest reason why seniors wind up in nursing homes, with one in three adults 65 and older falling every year, according to the CDC. These accidents can lead to more than a bruised ego: according to a recent report in HealthyCal.org, there were 1,851 deaths and more than 81,000 California seniors over 60 hospitalized due to falls in 2009. About one-quarter of seniors who suffer hip fractures die in the year following a fall, according to Cayuga Medical Center.
Meet Kelly Ward, a fall prevention specialist -- bet you didn't even know there were such things, right? -- who has trademarked the name “The Fall Prevention Lady.” Ward has spent years studying why people -- especially older adults -- fall down. Her focus is on teaching them how to prevent these troublesome slips and spills. The common stereotype is that falls are caused simply by physical frailty, which isn't always true says Ward. There are a combination of factors that contribute, including medications, physical surroundings, poor footwear and age-related vision and hearing problems.
Some people wonder if senior falls are sometimes putting the cart before the horse, meaning: Do people fall and break their hips or do frail hips simply break, thus causing a fall? Ward says while super fragile bones can certainly cause falls because they can no longer support weight, 60 percent of all senior falls are surface- and lighting-related. The majority of falls occur in the bathroom, where floor surfaces are often wet and slippery and the spaces are more cramped. The National Council on Safety says that 50 percent of all falls can be prevented.
Ward offers these suggestions for simple ways to "fall proof" a home and lifestyle in our slideshow below.
Put A Bathroom On The Ground Floor
Steps can be difficult to traverse, especially in the middle of the night when you are half-awake.
Bathrooms should have walk-in bathtubs, raised toilet seats, grab bars and non-slip floors.
Improve All Lighting In The House
Seniors need up to three times brighter lights to see adequately.
Monitor All Medications
Ward says seniors who take four or more medications -- including over-the-counter drugs -- should be given help monitoring their drugs. Many drugs carry a caution label that they can cause dizziness or sleepiness.
Non-stick shoes are important and thick soles should be avoided.
Consider An Exercise Program To Improve Balance And Strength
Ward's program includes toe lifts, marches, step-ups, and heel-to-toe walks to improve balance and strength. She employs resistance bands to improve upper body strength and encourages health-promoting activities such as walking, yoga, pilates and tai chi. For those who have already fallen, she encourages something that specifically targets balance and strength.