Expert offers tips to prevent household falls
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Tue., Jun. 28, 2011
There are some relatively simple steps seniors can take to help avoid falls in the home, according to Diane Chait, a registered nurse and Wellness Manager of VNA Healthcare, Inc.
Chait spoke at the Glastonbury Senior Center on June 1, and said that falls are the leading cause of death in the elderly. Sometimes falls have health complications that manifest over time, and eventually lead to death.
“You can fall and break an ankle,” Chait said, “and have years of pain. Then that ankle doesn't heal well, and you have mobility problems. Then it affects your balance, and you can fall again.”
She said that there are obvious things, like ice, that can cause a fall, but there are some other things in a home that can do the same.
"I've seen what falls can do to people, young and old,” she said, adding that there are many things that can lead to a fall.
“One of the first things you should do is look at your lighting,” she said, adding that she often finds people don't have overhead lighting, especially in apartments, and less-than-adequate lighting in the basement and stairways.
“The important thing is to have a light at the top and bottom of the stairs,” she said.
Nighttime lighting is also very important, especially between the bedroom and bathroom.
“You go to reach for a phone and there's no lighting, and you can hurt yourself,” Chait said.
Extra banisters are also recommended for some.
“Sometimes you have a banister on one staircase, or one side of a long hallway,” Chait said. “Most of the time, you could really do with two, so you have the two areas to stabilize you.”
Clutter is another problem, as many people tend to leave things within arm's reach, but don't realize they are actually creating obstacles for themselves.
“It's time to step back and take a look at your living room,” she said. “You could get your foot caught and trip on that extra piece of furniture. It's better to have clear space.”
There are keys to fall prevention, including exercise and placing safety features in a home, such as shower chairs and handles on bathroom walls.
Exercise, Chait said, is one of the most important, and even people who have difficulty with mobility should be able to do very beneficial stretching exercises.
“What I tell people is not to jump out of bed in the morning,” Chait said. “What you need to do while still in bed is to stretch like a cat, because it limbers you up.”
Chaif recommends a 15-minute daily stretching regimen.
Medications should also be monitored.
“One of the biggest reasons people fall is medication, because medications give them low blood pressure and make them dizzy,” Chait said. “People are taking medications of all sorts. They really have to be regulated to prevent side effects that can cause you to fall.”
Vision is another big one.
“If people don't quite see well, something can happen,” she said. “If you are supposed to be wearing glasses, they should be on first thing in the morning, and be right at your bedside table at night. Also, people should have regular check-ups.”
Chait said that statistically, one in 10 falls results in a serious injury, and falls are the leading cause of death in the elderly.
“You might not die initially from a fall, but you can die from complications,” she said. “Severe head trauma can affect someone for the rest of your life.”
For people with mobility problems, Chait also recommends a new LifeAlert system, which senses a fall and automatically calls for medical help.
For more information, visit www.vnahealthcare.org.