While falling is common in older age and the causes of falls are complex, falling frequently or having a bad fall doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of ageing.
If you or your parent are worried about their risk of falls, or you’ve noticed changes in their balance, arrange for them to see their GP, who can check for underlying causes and refer them for a falls risk assessment. The earlier you intervene the better.
You can help prevent your parent or elder relative from falling, or at least reduce their risk of injury, using some relatively simple measures to modify their home environment, lifestyle and physical health.
Here are 10 ways to help ‘fall-proof’ your parents.
1. Encourage and support regular exercise
The first and most important prevention measure is regular exercise. The key is to find a form of exercise that they enjoy, and can do safely and consistently.
Organising an assessment from a qualified physiotherapist to advise on a few exercises they can do safely in the comfort of their own living room is also a good idea.
Always be sure to consult their doctor before your parent starts any new exercise regime.
2. Create a safer home environment
Creating a safer home environment by making a few simple adjustments can be one of the most effective ways to prevent a fall.
This includes ensuring electrical cords and extension leads are tucked away and not stretched across walkways, removing mats and rugs or securing them to the floor with carpet tape or non-slip underway, and installing grab rails around the bathroom.
3. Review their medication
Go through your parent’s medications with their doctor and make sure they are all really needed. Sometimes a medication might get prescribed but isn’t needed later on as things change.
You or your parent should inform their doctor if any of their medications make them feel dizzy or drowsy – there may be alternatives.
4. Good nutrition
It’s important that older people get enough calcium, vitamin D and protein in order to maintain healthy muscles and bones.
Vitamin D should be taken in the form of a supplement and their doctor can recommend what strength of supplement is best for them. The NHS recommends a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms, or 400 International Units (IU), of vitamin D for all adults during the autumn and winter.
Limiting alcohol intake to two drinks or less a day and making sure they get plenty of fluids to stay hydrated will also help to reduce their risk.
5. Regular eye examinations
Schedule yearly eye examinations to check for vision changes, ensure they have the correct glasses prescription and have any vision issues like cataracts corrected with surgery.
People over 60 are eligible for free NHS eye tests, which lots of opticians provide. You can find opticians that offer NHS sight tests near you here.
6. Regular hearing tests
You should encourage your parent to get their hearing tested every two years, or anytime you think their hearing may have deteriorated, and have a hearing aid fitted if necessary.
There are many discrete hearing aid options available these days at different price points, and you can get certain hearing aids for free on the NHS if they get a referral to an NHS audiologist via their GP.
7. Footwear and regular footcare
As well as wearing low-heel, non-slip footwear, it’s important your parents’ feet are kept in good condition. Toenails should be kept short and any painful foot deformities or corns should be treated by a chiropodist or podiatrist.
8. Encourage them to use a walking aid
Many older people will initially flat out refuse to use a walking stick, thinking it makes them look old and vulnerable. But if they have already fallen a couple of times and are unsteady, they should use one all the time. A walking stick is less ageing that a hip fracture!
9. Communicate and be observant
Routinely ask your parent about falls, and look out for changes in their balance and gait. Are they struggling more to stand up from sitting without losing their balance? Do you think they need to have a medical or fall risk assessment?
10. Have a fall action plan
Consider and discuss how your parent would access help if they had a bad fall. If they live alone, how would they get help? Who else has a key and can get into the home easily? Would they be open to wearing a personal alarm linked to a fall-response service?
A holistic, customised approach that includes exercise, home modifications, medication review, proper nutrition, regular health check-ups, and the use of technology can collectively contribute to a safer environment for your parent, reducing the likelihood of falls and enhancing their overall well-being.
Even if you can only manage to implement a few of these measures, these will still go a long way to reducing your parent’s fall risk.
- What is the most effective way to prevent falls?
Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to prevent against falls in older people.
- When should my parent see a doctor about falls?
If your parent experiences frequent falls, unexplained balance issues, or you notice any changes in their gait or mobility, you or they should contact their GP as soon as possible. The GP can run some tests and refer them for a fall risk assessment. Early intervention is key.
- How does a fall alarm work?
A fall alarm typically consists of a wearable device equipped with sensors that can detect if the wearer has a hard fall. If a fall is detected, the device automatically triggers an alert to a 24-hour monitoring service, who can then speak to the wearer through the device or a base unit in the home, and will send emergency services if needed.