Keep your home ‘Fall-Proof’ for the elderly

SAVOIR FAIRE By Mayenne Carmona

During a family reunion last year, one of my cousins marveled at the state of well-being of my parents who are both nonagenarians.  They are not as sprightly as when they were younger, but they are not in wheelchairs, they don’t have caregivers and, in their own way, they are quite active at their age.  My mom goes ballroom dancing thrice a week with dancemates who are far younger than she. In fact, she’s been dancing for the past 37 years. Most of her age group already passed on and younger members had taken their place.

On the other hand, my dad still plays golf, and drives to office and to the golf course. He refuses to have a driver, claiming that driving keeps him mentally alert.

Without sounding like a prophet of doom,  a cousin insisted that we make our parents’ home “fall-proof” because usually, a fall is the beginning of the end for most elderly people. He cited as an example three of our aunts in the province who, after they fell and broke a hip, a rib, a knee, went on a down spiral and lost their zest for life and their will to live.

Falling is not a rite of passage for the elderly, but statistics show that one out of three seniors fall yearly and that falls are the No.1 cause of their injuries, resulting in hip, knee, and other fractures. They can fall and hit their head, resulting in brain injuries that can be fatal. I was skeptical about these stats at first until it happened to my mother.

Two months ago, she hurried to her bathroom barefoot, leaving her slippers behind. On her way back from the bathroom, she tripped on her slippers and fell. She was rushed to the hospital as she was in a lot of pain. The X-rays revealed that she broke her left arm, between the shoulder and her elbow. She had to be put in a cast and a sling. We got her a caregiver to help her do the daily essentials.  True to the words of my cousin, she sank into depression, but my siblings and I did not allow her to wallow in her anguish and pain.  We insisted on taking her out, made her walk around the mall even if it took forever for her to go from point A to point B. Three weeks after her fall, the caregiver reported that Mother had no life in her and just wanted to lie down and languish in bed. We called her dance amigas and invited them to dance with her at home. She was able to dance with only her right arm moving. While she was dancing, she forgot her pain. Dancing was therapeutic for her so we asked her dance instructor to come three times a week to dance with her. A couple of weeks ago, she celebrated her birthday with a bang! She had a dance party with her ballroom dancemates. At 95, she was the oldest dancer of the night, dancing with one arm in a sling. She got over her depression and she is back to her old self. Her cast will be removed soon.

After our mom’s fall, we took measures to keep our parents’ home a safer place for them. We insisted on moving them from their second floor bedroom to a room on the ground floor. Daddy built this house when they were still relatively young and put all the bedrooms on the second floor. Negotiating those stairs daily is dangerous for the elderly. We also took out the bathtub and installed a shower instead, with handrails on all sides. We asked the contractor to make the bathroom floors “slip-free.”

Here are tips to keep the home safe for everyone:

• Remove or tape down all area rugs as they are major trip hazards if they are not properly secured to the floor. 

• De-clutter main areas — keep your home neat and tidy. Remove stacks of old newspapers, magazines, shoes, slippers, toys, suitcases, etc. from busy areas where the elderly and other members often pass.

• Install grab bars and handrails in the shower area, stairs, toilets, and hallways.

• Put the right lights. Inadequate lighting is another major hazard. Install brighter lightbulbs where needed, particularly in stairways, narrow hallways, bathrooms, and bedrooms. Night lights in bedrooms and bathrooms are a must for better guidance.

• Avoid wearing long clothing that drag on the floor. You can trip on it.

• Wear shoes instead of socks as socks have a slipping risk unless you have socks that have grips on the soles for non-slip purposes.

• Make all areas non-slip.  Bathtubs and showers, floors in the kitchen, bathroom and terrace can be extremely dangerous when wet.  Put non-slip mats, or non-slip flooring.

• Live on one level. Even with precautions like guard rails, stairs can be a cause for falls. If it is not possible to live on one level, try to limit the trips you make up and down the stairs.

• Move more carefully. Dr. Robert Bunning of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington DC explains that many people fall at home by moving too quickly from a sitting to a standing position or vice versa. He says, “Take your time, pause after going from lying down to sitting and from sitting to standing. Also take a pause before using the railing on stairs whether going up or down.”

Source: Everyday Health by Wyatt Myers and Diana Rodriguez

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