As people age, their sense of balance and movement start to suffer. Trips, falls and stumbles are among the most common form of injury for the elderly. While they’re not usually very serious, they can be distressing and lead to greater complications if not carefully managed.
Your parents will of course want to remain active and independent for as long as possible. The trauma caused by frequent falls, both emotional and physical, will be the most frequent obstacle to that aim.
As always, prevention is better than cure. By keeping wise about the causes of most falls, and knowing how to act quickly and effectively when they happen, you can better ensure that your parents will keep on their feet. Or, if accidents still happen, how to quickly get back onto them again.
What causes falls?
Know your enemy, as they say. Knowing what leads to your elderly parents falling over will better prepare you for how to prevent it. Naturally no two occurrences are the same, but we’ve listed below some of the more common causes behind falls.
Stiff joints and poor mobility. Aging bodies don’t move as well as they used to, a situation that’s made worse by inactivity. The unsteady and awkward gait is typically what causes someone to become unbalanced.
Environment. Having a small, cluttered and untidy home presents a veritable minefield to trip over, no matter how old you are.
Conditions such as arthritis or dementia. Many older people have at least one chronic condition that will increase the chances of falling. If they require medication, it may also impact their balance and self-awareness.
How to prevent falls
Now we know some of the factors that can lead to people falling over, what can we do about them?
1) Keep active
One of the most important ways you can avoid falls and stumbling is to encourage your elderly parents to keep active. Old age becomes a rather sedentary time if you’re not careful, and your body has a very pronounced ‘use it or lose it’ nature to its functions. The less your parents get up and about, the harder the activity becomes to them.
Get them to enrol into a class at the gym, such as yoga or aerobics. Make sure they go out on walks frequently. Buy them a bicycle to get around if they’re still able to. Physically bring them out to the shops for groceries. Not only will it help their joints and muscles active and strong, it’s great for their mental health as well.
2) Eat well
Coupled with exercise is also a healthy diet. Especially important here is keeping bones healthy and strong, so your parents should have a diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin D. Weight bearing exercises work a treat too. All this prevents osteoporosis, or weakness and brittleness in the bones, so in the event your parents do have a nasty fall their bodies will withstand the trauma better.
3) Create a safe environment
More practically, make your parents’ home fall-proof. The next time you visit your parents, try and assess how their home is laid out. Do they have plenty of space to move around in? Are there any loose carpets or rugs? Do cables and wires trail across commonly used routes and corridors? Is everything bright and well-lit?
All these factors determine the frequency of tripping on something. Large open rooms with plenty of space and illumination, and a dearth of trip hazards and obstructive clutter will see far less falls than a dark, cramped room that has more trip-wires than a Vietcong tunnel.
Keeping your parents’ house clean and tidy is an important step if they’ve gotten a little messy in their old age. Always clear up their clutter, especially if it’s laying on the floor for anyone to stand or slip on. If necessary, encourage them to downsize and clear out any unnecessary junk that may be adding to the mess.
You can also go an extra mile by installing hand rails at strategic locations such as the bathroom or the front door or installing access ramps instead of stairs where needed. Find more information on our article about home adaptations.
4) Check their medication
If your parents are on medication, make sure they take it responsibly. For example, if their medication makes them sleepy or dizzy, make sure they don’t take it before doing anything overly active. If the effects are particularly pronounced, mention to their GP or consultant the next time they’re seen. More moderate alternatives may be available.
5) Consider home care help
Finally, if you can’t always be around your parents to keep an eye on them, you may want to consider getting a home carer. A carer will be able to watch them more frequently than you may be able to, and would be trained how to respond in the event of falls. This is especially useful if your parents are advanced in age or have particularly debilitating conditions such as Parkinson’s.
What to do in the event of a fall
If, despite you and your parents’ efforts, they should fall anyway the most important thing to do is not to panic. Keep calm and keep your parent calm too by having them take deep, measured breaths. If they panic and struggle, they may make things worse.
Check for any injuries, bleeding or bruises. Ask your parent if anything hurts, and how badly. If they’re injured to such an extent that they can’t move, such as a broken arm, don’t try to move them. Instead, call 999 and make sure they’re as comfortable as the situation allows, while keeping them as still as they can until help arrives.
If the injury is not serious, slowly try and get them upright and onto a chair. Do not rush things. Take it at their own pace and let them decide when they want to move and get up. Just be on hand to give them something to brace against and lean on, and carefully help them back onto their feet. If they’re on a hard surface, find a blanket or a towel for them to kneel on for extra comfort.
Once they’re vertical again, have them sit down for a bit to recover with a warm blanket or dressing gown over their legs and feet. If necessary, pour them a drink of water.
Give them a moment to recover, checking them again for any injuries that may have been overlooked such as strains or sprains. Keep them as comfortable as possible while they regain their composure. If they’ve sat down for a while, get them to change their position every half hour so.
How to support your older parent following a fall
Never keep falls a secret. If one of your elderly parents suffered a fall, be sure to tell their doctor about it. Their GP will help you establish what caused the fall and they’ll offer advice on how to avoid it in the future. This may include making adaptations to their home, or getting a home carer, as discussed in points 3 and 5 above.
You can download our Elderly Care Guide for some useful advice on caring for older loved ones. Also, feel free to get in touch with us on 020 8629 1030 and we’ll be happy to give you some information about the home care services available.