What to Do When Your Parents Keep Falling
Jan 02, 2024
If one or both of your parents keep falling, it is a serious matter requiring intervention. Among older adults, there are about 36 million falls yearly. Around 32,000 of those falls are fatal. About 20% of all falls among older adults lead to injury as well. So, to help your parents live a long and healthy life, preventing falls is key. Let’s explain what to do when parents keep falling.
Understanding the Causes of Falls in Seniors
Falls among older adults usually are caused by either physiological factors, or factors in the environment. Once you identify the reasons your parents keep falling, you can take steps to prevent future falls.
Common Physical Causes
Here are some common reasons for falls stemming from physiological causes.
- Age-related muscle weakness and balance issues: Dizziness and vertigo are believed to affect around a third of adults over the age of 60. It is no surprise that these symptoms would lead to problems with balance.
- Vision problems: As people get older, they may experience vision loss connected with causes like glaucoma, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration.
- Medication side effects: Certain medications can increase the chances of falling. Make sure to discuss all medications and supplements your parents are taking with their doctor so you can identify any potential culprits.
- Underlying medical conditions: Some conditions that are associated with an increased risk of falling include diabetes, depression, arthritis, stroke and chronic kidney disease.
Treating these health problems may sometimes make falls less likely. But in many cases, you will simply need to manage the conditions and mitigate the risks as best you can. For example, sometimes vision can be restored. But in other cases, it may continue to get worse, leaving you to work around it.
A variety of environmental factors can increase the chances that an older adult will fall. Here are some common examples.
- Poor home lighting: When lighting is inadequate, it can make it hard to see, which in turn makes it more likely one will trip over an obstacle or slip on something. Do not forget to think about whether the lighting is sufficient for your parents, not just yourself. Their night vision may not be as good as yours.
- Slippery surfaces: A floor with a slick texture, a wet shower floor, or even a slippery rug can all increase the odds of falling.
- Cluttered living spaces: If clutter is strewn around the floor, it can be easy to trip over obstacles. This doesn’t just mean piles of laundry lying around or such either—it can also refer to a crowded home without a lot of clear paths for walking between furnishings.
- Inadequate grab bars and handrails: Older adults with difficulties maintaining their balance may need these safety features in order to stay upright. While they can try to use walls for balance by themselves, they do not offer anything to grip, so it can be harder to use them to prevent a fall.
- Unsuitable footwear: Shoes with high heels or poor tread or support may increase the chances of falling. Those shoes might have been relatively safe when your parents were younger, but may no longer be appropriate to their needs.
Preventing Future Falls of Aging Parents
Now that you understand common factors that can contribute to falls among older adults, let’s offer some tips to help prevent your parents from falling in the future.
Home Safety Modifications
Try making these simple changes to your parents’ home to make it safer.
- Improve lighting in key areas: Do an inventory of your parents’ home. Look for spots where illumination is deficient, and install lighting. If they regularly visit you, you should do the same in your home.
- Remove throw rugs and clutter from walkways: Get all clutter off the floor. As for rugs, even those with non-slip bottoms can sometimes slide, so you may just want to do away with them or secure them somehow (i.e. a heavy furnishing holding down a corner).
- Ensure furniture is stable and well-positioned: Keep furnishings out of major walkways, and ensure they will not topple.
- Choose non-slip flooring materials: For example, textured stone or vinyl is superior to smooth, non-textured stone or vinyl. Carpets can also be a suitable option.
Encouraging Physical Activity and Strength Training
To some extent, your parents might be able to improve their balance, coordination and strength. If possible, try to get your parents to exercise regularly and safely (you could even offer to do it with them). Here are a few ideas that can help your parents reduce their chances of falling.
- Low-impact exercises: Your parents could try exercises like walking, tai chi, or chair yoga.
- Balance and coordination exercises: Your parents can try exercises like the flamingo stand or the tree pose to improve their balance.
- Leg strengthening exercises: Leg raises, arches, squats, lunges and other exercises can improve lower body strength. Discover Leg Strengthening Exercises for Seniors You Can Do at Home.
Some older adults require additional support in order to get around safely. Assistive devices that can help include canes or walkers (including rolling walkers).
You can also encourage your parents to wear a medical alert bracelet or similar item. That way, in case they do fall, they can immediately signal for help.
Safety Tips and Precautions
Now you have a good idea of what you can do to make your parents’ environment safer, and you have learned some good exercise habits to encourage. You also have discovered assistive devices that can help. Let’s go over a few additional tips for helping your parents move around safely and avoid falls.
The CDC recommends that older adults or their caretakers speak with their doctor about how they can prevent falls. During the visit, you can also describe any falls that have already happened, or concerns involving unsteadiness. This is an opportunity to review health concerns and medications that may be contributing.
As is pointed out in this research in the Indian Journal of Orthopaedics, there are situational factors that can cause falls as well. Safety measures can focus on avoiding those factors (i.e. issues may include walking and talking at the same time, multitasking in other ways, etc.).
Additionally, your parents should wear clothing and footwear that is comfortable, but unlikely to snag on anything or get in the way while walking. See the FAQ for specific recommendations for safe shoes.
While it can be scary to witness your parents falling, the good news is that there are a lot of precautions they and you can take to prevent falls from happening again.
By addressing underlying medical issues, making your parents’ home safer, and getting them to exercise and use assistive devices, you can raise their quality of life and help them stay healthy and independent as they age.
Here are answers to a few more questions you may have about preventing your aging parents from falling.
What assistive devices can help prevent falls in seniors?
Examples of assistive devices to help prevent seniors from falling include grab bars, handrails, canes and walkers. Your parents’ doctor or physical therapist can discuss the options and help identify the assistive devices that will be the best fit for your parents’ abilities and needs.
What are the risk factors for falls in aging parents?
Risk factors for falls among the aging population include environmental factors, physiological factors, and situational factors. You will need to assess all three to figure out how to reduce the chances of your parents falling.
Should I seek professional assistance for my parents when they fall?
It is wise to take your parents to see a doctor if they fall. Remember, injuries from falls are very common in older adults. It is worth a quick check to make sure everything is all right.
Plus, if there is an untreated underlying condition, the doctor may be able to identify it and begin treating it.
How can shoe choices impact senior health?
Yes, wearing the right shoes can be a big help in preventing falls and making walking more comfortable and enjoyable.
We recommend the Cadense Original Adaptive Shoe for men and women. These shoes are designed to help people who have trouble raising their feet when they walk to move forward fluidly and avoid tripping. This is made possible through an innovative adaptive friction system that is built into the soles of the shoes.
In fact, these shoes may not only help keep your parents safer as they walk around their home, but could also help empower them to get more exercise.