According to the Public Health Agency of Canada falls are the leading cause of injury related hospitalizations of seniors in Canada.  Even though 20-30% of seniors fall each year, falls are also considered one of the leading preventable causes of death of Canadian seniors.  We therefore present to you the below safety information and tips that will hopefully keep you safe and on your feet.

What are some types of Orthopaedic injuries or problems that make the risk of falling higher among Seniors?

In the elderly population there is an increased risk of falling due to muscle weakness, changes in proprioception, low blood pressure, arrhythmia, reduced vision and a previous history of falls.

What are some of the dangers of falls in Seniors?

For one, there is an increased chance of a fracture due to Osteoporosis which is common in seniors. There are also psychological post fall consequences as the senior who fell may develop such an extreme fear of falling that s/he may refuse to walk or even stand again and might even decide to avoid any activity that s/he does not consider very low risk.  The results could be a senior who is very dependent on others.

When should seniors use walkers or canes, and how does one decide which is the right type?

There are several tests that were designed in order to determine the risk of falling. One of the most known is called the “Berg Balance Scale“ which will help the Physiotherapist decide weather the senior needs a walker or cane or other device. This test will be part of an evaluation carried out by a certified Physiotherapist.

What are the ideal types of shoes for seniors to wear and what does that depend upon?

Any closed shoe is appropriate as long as it is of the right size and width. The most important thing is to avoid shoes like flip– flops and to not walk indoors with only socks on.

Are there ideal clothes that lessen the risk of falling?

Do not wear clothes that are too loose that can get hooked onto furniture or pants that are too long that could lead to tripping.

What should seniors do when sidewalks are icy?

Under extreme conditions staying at home is definitely a good option. If one must step out, then walking with a helper is the best option.  Special studded shoes and a studded cane will also help reduce the chances of a fall.

Should seniors walk at night?

That depends on several factors such as the outdoor lighting conditions and the visual acuity of the Senior. A helper or family member to assist the senior is often suggested for walking outside at night.

Tell us about eye sight in general and its effect on the risk of falling?

It’s a good idea to have a regular vision check up with an eye doctor or an optometrist as reduced vision is a contributing factor that increases the chance of falling. You need to see where you are going.

How should caregivers and family members walk seniors? And how should they support the senior?

We have to differentiate when we use the term “senior”. Happily, there are many seniors that are in good health and do not need to be assisted when they walk. On the other hand a senior that has been diagnosed as someone who needs to be assisted by a human aid as s/he walks should be assisted in the right way. That is,  the helper should place his or her hand or arm under the armpit of the senior and remain close to the senior as s/her walks. Just holding the seniors hand is not the ideal manner. The helper must be prepared to catch the senior if he falls and just holding his or her hand won’t help that much.

What Home safety tips for seniors can be implemented to reduce the risk of fall injuries?

There are many different things that can help reduce the risk of falling at home including:

  • the senior should walk in his/her home with the proper shoes on or walk barefoot;
  • they should avoid walking only in socks as mentioned above;
  • all the small carpets should be removed;
  • all obstacles on the floor including T.V. wires, phone wires and other cables must be removed and placed along the walls;
  • the rooms  in the house should be organized in a way that makes the distances of walking shorter – for example, one can put the bed closer to the bathroom;
  • in addition every night the senior should make sure that there is a clear unobstructed path from the bed room to the bathroom before going to sleep;
  • s/he should also make sure to use his walking aid when he goes to the bathroom if he was instructed to do so and not just depend upon walking to the bathroom by being supported by the walls and furniture.

Should seniors have Shower holders installed?

Yes, that is highly recommended to avoid falls as the shower floors can get slippery when wet.

Is physiotherapy useful to reduce the risk of falling?

Physiotherapy is one of the most effective ways to prevent falls in seniors as there are specific exercises and treatments that are designed to actually prevent falls by improving the person’s  balance when they both walk and stand in addition to improving their reaction time to disturbances in their balance. Many places in the world recommend this program to every senior whether s/he has has had a history of falls or not.