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Ask a Doc: Change living space to help prevent falls

3:33 PM, Jul. 5, 2013  |  Comments
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Question: My elderly mother recently fell in her home. Is there anything I can do to prevent it from happening again?

Answer: The number of Wisconsinites injured in falls is growing, so much so that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has identified fall prevention as a key initiative.

In 2008, 918 people in Wisconsin died because of falls. Of that number, 789 were 65 years of age or older. As we age, we become more susceptible to falling, and the chances of severe injuries rise. Even those who fall but are not injured could develop a fear of falling and limit their activities, which puts them at higher risk for falling again.

Falls can occur because of physical reasons, such as leg weakness or impaired vision, or for environmental reasons, such as throw rugs, insufficient lighting or uneven walking surfaces.

You can prevent falls in the home by making changes to the living space and your parent's walking style. They should always wear well-fitting shoes in the house because they provide more balance and slip-resistance than walking in socks or slippers.

A physical therapist can evaluate your parent's current physical status, including strength, flexibility, walking pattern, balance and daily activities. A therapist can recommend exercises to promote balance, and assistive devices such as canes or walkers, if needed.

In your parent's home, work first on the rooms that are frequented most. Look for throw rugs, boxes and extension cords that might cause a trip. Don't leave items on stairs, and keep walkways clear. Replace glass tables with safer wooden tables.

Add safety handrails to hallways, bathrooms and both sides of stairs. Buy a raised toilet seat for ease in getting up. Look for "grabbing" utensils that can reach items at the top of a cupboard without having to climb a step stool.

Make sure there is enough lighting to see what's on the floor. Put extra nightlights out, and keep a flashlight near the bed. Tack down carpeting that is coming up. Add bright paint or tape to the front edge of steps as a warning.

Outside the home, look for sidewalk cracks or driveway areas that need repair.

Don't let your parents become a statistic. Alter their routines and their home now, to reduce their chances of falling.

Beth Landretti is a physical therapist at Marshfield Clinic Stettin Center. This column provides health information and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for care from your health care provider.

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