June is National Safety Month. There are so many things we can do to help keep the older adults in our lives safe from injury while they continue to live independently. These tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
are a good place to start: We can all help keep the older adults in our lives safe from injury and independent longer. Did you know that every minute of every day someone 65 years or older falls in the United States? That means one out of four older Americans will fall each year, and falling once doubles an older adult’s chances of falling again. However, falls are not a normal part of aging and there are steps every older American can take to stay safe.
Get a Checkup Every Year
To start, all older adults should talk to their healthcare provider about their fall risk. A good opportunity in which to have this discussion is during a yearly physical exam. Certain health issues can increase the risk of falling, such as leg weakness, mobility problems, and balance issues. Doctors or pharmacists can also review all the medicines an older adult takes, including over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements. Some medicines can have side effects that affect the ability to drive, walk, or get around safely. Furthermore, unintentional prescription drug overdoses are a potential problem for people of all ages. Older adults are often not aware of the serious dangers of some medicines, such as opioids prescribed for pain relief and benzodiazepines to relieve anxiety or insomnia. Certain medicines, when taken together or with alcohol, can sometimes lead to serious side effects and even death.
Keep your loved ones safe from injuries.
Encourage the older adults you know to get an eye exam each year. Poor vision can increase the chances of falling or being in a car crash. Wearing multifocal glasses, such as bifocals, trifocals, or progressive lenses can increase the risk of falling when outdoors or when walking up or down steps. Blurred fields of vision can worsen balance and make it more difficult to avoid tripping.
Improve Strength and Balance to Reduce Fall Risk
Following a regular physical activity program can reduce an older adult’s chances of falling, even when done as little as three times per week. However, simply walking is not enough. While brisk walking is good cardio exercise, exercising specifically to improve strength and balance is important for reducing falls for older adults. See the National Institute on Aging’s Go4Life exercises for strength and balance at go4life.nia.nih.govExternal for specific suggestions.
Check for Safety to Avoid Home Hazards
Consider helping an older adult complete a fall prevention checklist to find and fix hazards in their home, such as the one found in the CDC brochure, Check for SafetyCdc-pdf
. This checklist helps identify potential hazards in the home that could contribute to a fall. Simple measures such as removing clutter from walkways, removing throw rugs, and ensuring there is plenty of light can all reduce the risk of falling.Preventing falls can also help prevent traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) among older adults. A TBI is a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that disrupts normal brain function. Falls are the most common cause of TBIs among older Americans—especially among those 75 years and older—and severe TBIs contribute to falls being the leading cause of injury death among Americans 65 years and older. Falls also cause more than 95 percent of hip fractures among older Americans, after which many people are no longer able to live on their own. This loss of independence often leads to a continual decline into poorer health and a much lower quality of life.As you celebrate all that older Americans bring to your community and personal life, help keep them steady, healthy, and safe for a longer independent future.