Today is the first official day of fall. It may not feel like it yet, or perhaps it been feeling fall-like for a few days now. Either way, it’s now official. It’s also officially a “falls-watch season” for everyone but especially the elderly.
As aging in place professionals, we can certainly appreciate the impact falls can have on individuals as they are getting older. The CDC reports that falls are the leading cause of all injuries as well as the leading cause of death from an injury among older adults. Falls can happen from so many causes, and this is what we need to watch out for and help with for our older aging in place clients.
With today being “National Falls Prevention Day” as a part of the month of September being “National Falls Prevention Month,” there is no escaping the importance that personal safety plays in the well-being of our clients and the elderly in general. For people to age successfully, even if they have an existing mobility issue, they need to remain as safe and free of injury as possible.
Falls are not an intentional event, but sometimes they happen anyway – even with the utmost planning to avoid and prevent them. Falls certainly aren’t limited to the elderly, but they seem to be more consequential and longer lasting (even traumatic) when it happens to people who aren’t quite as physically prepared to rebound well from an accidental fall. A baby learning to walk falls constantly, but they are considerably lower to the ground, more flexible, and seemingly built for this type of occurrence. Older adults are not. Their bones are more fragile and their reaction time is much slower than a child’s to avoid the fall or prevent a more serious injury.
Falls and falls prevention relate back to personal safety – how well someone’s home or apartment allows them to exist within it safely. Are the passageways open to permit free movement? This means that they are wide enough to allow unfettered passage – even with the use of a cane, crutches, walker, wheelchair, or assistant (family member or caregiver). They must be free of storage on the floor (boxes, sacks, parcels, magazines, mail, shoes, or other items).
Is the client’s home comfortable and are they at ease in it? Are there obstacles that restrict mobility, storage that is out in the open rather than put away, general clutter, or just too much stuff that is accumulating everywhere? Are they intimidated to any extent by their home or is it quite friendly to them? Do they feel as though they can navigate it safely even during a power outage or if they get up in the middle of the night and there is no light (or only a small one) to guide their way?
Whether it is our personal residence, that of a parent or other loved one, a neighbor or someone else we know, or one that we have been retained to improve, we have a huge responsibility to keep our charges safe – and this means free from a falling, tripping, stumbling, or other type of contact injury. As aging in place specialists, remodelers, OTs and PTs, designers, builders, real estate sales professionals, and others knowledgeable about interior space utilization, we know the danger that clutter and tight spaces generate. General busyness of patterns and furniture, too much glare from the use of glass and shiny surfaces, and the lack of contrast also contribute to potential falls.
Restricted access and passage, dizzying patterns, not enough light, and glare that hides surfaces or creates the illusion of wetness are dangers that we cannot afford to let exist as long as we have some say in correcting them. This is our challenge – for our own residences, for our relatives and friends, and for our clients.
There are other concerns that may not be immediately obvious that healthcare professionals (OTs and PTs) will be instrumental in spotting and helping us to address them. These include balance and vision issues that may cause disorientation or seeing things differently than they actually are, stepping incorrectly or losing one’s balance, misjudging where a chair or other piece of furniture (including their bed or toilet) is located and not sitting on it all the way, or slipping on wet areas such in the bathroom or kitchen.
Let’s take “Falls Prevention Month” – and today as “Falls Prevention Day” – as a serious reminder that this is a top priority all year (and not just September) – creating and maintaining safe, comfortable, convenient, and accessible dwellings and living environments for everyone that we have the ability to do so.