Caregiver Tips: Preventing a Fall (Part 1)

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It can happen in the blink of an eye.

A trip.

A fall.

And everything changes.

Old bones shatter more dramatically—and heal more slowly. And the enforced idleness isn’t just inconvenient. (Though it is. For everyone. Believe me on this.) It can set off an avalanche of related health problems, from muscle atrophy to cardiac issues. So you really, really, really don’t want your aging parents to take a tumble.

The good news is that a few simple steps can help forestall that fall in the first place.

Pump up the lighting. My family may call me hypocritical for writing this, because in an effort not to waste electricity we generally stumble around in the dark, but in truth, good lighting is invaluable in preventing a fall. Fundamentally, you have to be able to see where you are going—and aging eyes do that less well with every passing day. So use higher wattage bulbs, brighten up dim corners and be sure to install motion-sensor night lights. As a corollary to the whole vision thing: make sure your loved one’s eye-glass prescription is up to date.

Clean up the junk. Piles of old papers. Clothes on the floor. Stacks of books. Every one of them is a fall waiting to happen. This is particularly true on the stairs; stray objects blend into the carpet and are rendered invisible, especially to those heading downstairs.

Rearrange the cabinets. Put the things your parents use every day within easy reach, thus eliminating the temptation to climb on a step-stool (or worse kneel on the counter. Come on; you know you do it.)

Go skid-free. Move throw rugs out of the path of travel or fasten down their corners with double stick tape. Replace standard bathmats with non-skid mats and add the non-skid strips to the tub. I know they are ugly, but not as ugly as a shattered leg.

Grab on. Every stairway needs a sturdy handrail, preferably on both sides. And while you’re at it, replace the bathroom towel racks with grab bars—there are good-looking ones now. Otherwise, when your parent slips on some water, they will end up yanking the towel bar out of the wall on their way down, and you’ll have to call a plasterer as well as 911.

Raise those hems. Long dresses. High heels. Long dresses with high heels. Even the most nimble of us get caught. So banish the stilettos and get the hemlines off the ground; tea-length gowns are lovely even on the most special occasions.  And remember, fashionistas aren’t the only ones at risk: backless slippers and loose pants are both equally threatening.

Here’s the bottom line: Look around your parents’ house. Anything that has ever caused you (or worse, them) to slightly stumble is an accident waiting to happen. Fix it now.

This post is the first in a series on Fall Prevention. Be sure also to read Preventing a Fall (Part 2) which offers tips to help balance; Preventing a Fall (Part 3) with a link to a brochure for more tips. Also visit our Facebook Page and download our Fall Prevention checklist, found under "Reports."