Best of 2017: Seniors and Aging: Slip and fall prevention for seniors

According to Statistics Canada, falls remain the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations among Canadian seniors.  Between 20% and 30% of seniors fall each year.  Slips and falls increase during the winter months due to weather conditions and slippery surfaces.  However, it is interesting to note that 50% of slips and falls that result in hospitalization occur in the home.

There are many risk factors including biological, behavioural, social and environmental.  Some of the more common risk factors include chronic conditions and disabilities, cognitive challenges, loss of balance, reduced nutrition levels, poor vision, excessive alcohol, improper medication management, home environment and weather conditions.

Awareness of these risk factors and taking initiatives to reduce these risks will ultimately result in less slips and falls.  Here are some suggestions to prevent slips and falls in the home and outside the home:

Internal

Remove throw mats and slippery rugs.  Replace them with non-slip matting if necessary.

De-clutter.  Remove unnecessary items that cause clutter and keep walkways free.  

Wear shoes or non-slip footwear in the house.  Avoid walking around in socks, nylons or stockings especially on potentially slippery surfaces such as wood floors and stairs.

Minimize the use of stairs.  Keep everyday items handy on the main floor.

Improve lighting conditions in the house.

Properly maintain assisted devices such as cane tips and walkers.

Improve bathroom safety: install grab bars; use a bath bench or chair; use an adjustable transfer bench for the bathtub; consider a raised toilet seat; put non-slip strips or tiles in the tub; convert your bathtub into a walk-in shower.

External

Use proper footwear for walking in winter conditions.  Wear winter boots with rubber treads.  Crampons are also helpful.  Helpful reminder: be sure to remove the crampons once inside.

Avoid high risk situations such as icy and snowy weather.

Use handrails where possible and DON’T RUSH!!

Use ice melter around entrances, walkways and driveways.  There are many environmentally friendly options out there.  Magnesium chloride based ice melters are probably the best in terms of effectiveness in cold temperatures while minimizing damage to the environment.  Calcium chloride works best in extreme cold conditions.  Standard rock salt (sodium chloride) may be the least expensive but it is only effective up to approximately -6 degrees Celsius and it will do a fair amount of damage to your property.

General

Be aware of your environment and reduce higher risk situations.

Stay in shape and be physically active.  Work on balance exercises.  There are many simple exercises using a chair as a prop such as limb swings and a one foot balance stance.   The internet is full of balance exercises for seniors.  Try to incorporate these exercises into your daily schedule.  You may even consider hiring an occupational therapist that could assess your needs and provide you with optimal solutions.

Be sure to take your medication regularly and at the proper time.

Visit your doctor regularly and discuss potential issues such as vertigo, poor eye sight, reduced muscle mass, declining bone structure, loss of hearing or low blood pressure.  These are all factors that increase your risk of slips and falls.  Your doctor can play a positive role in improving any of these symptoms.

Slips and falls are sometimes inevitable.  However, in many cases, they can be significantly reduced or eliminated.  Take proactive measures to reduce the likelihood of a slip or fall and avoid unwanted visits to the hospital.  

Matt Del Vecchio is a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging (CPCA).  He is the founder and president of Lianas - a company specializing in retirement residence search and senior transition support.

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