Every year, more than 300,000 people ages 65 and older are hospitalized for hip fractures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most due to falling. Fall risk is higher for seniors than other age groups, and holidays often see a surge in the frequency of falls, simply because house guests are unfamiliar with the layout of a home, according to an article entitled Preventing Holiday Falls.
Several factors increase the risk of a fall for a senior in an unfamiliar setting such as loose rugs, damaged flooring, poorly lit areas, and cluttered furniture, the article notes.
“As we get older, there can be gait instability and underlying disease or arthritis that takes away mobility,” said Kenneth Chakour, MD, a University of Chicago Medicine orthopedic surgeon who specializes in comprehensive joint care in an article entitled Preventing Holiday Hazards for Seniors. “Vision may not be as good, making it harder to see obstacles, and reaction time goes down, making it harder to catch yourself if you do fall.
“Many older patients are on blood thinners, so a normal hit on the head, for example, could cause bleeding on the brain. And because bone quality deteriorates, older adults are more susceptible to fractures, particularly hip fractures,” Chakour said.
If hosting older relatives and friends this holiday season, you’ll also need to prepare your home inside and out to make sure their visit is comfortable and safe.
“We can vastly reduce the risk of falling by evaluating our home before relatives arrive,” said Megan Huisingh-Scheetz, MD, MPH, UChicago Medicine geriatrics specialist and Co-Director of the Successful Aging and Frailty Evaluation (SAFE) Clinic. “From the exterior walkway to every room where guests will spend time, make sure paths are clear, the handholds and railings are secure and lighting is good throughout.”
If you have a choice of locations, consider holding holiday celebrations in a single-level home, or have most activities on the first level to avoid stairs.
Here are some tips on keeping elders safe in your home during the holidays.
- It’s easy to accumulate clutter, such as boxes of décor and stacks of gifts from holiday shopping. Take the time to declutter your home and make improvements to prevent falls and keep family and friends safe. Be sure to pick up all loose papers or items on the floor and stairs.
- Keep the path between your front door, driveway, and mailbox well-lit and clear of debris. Make sure steps are well-salted and handrails are tightened.
- Clear ice, snow, and loose leaves to prevent slips/falls.
- For cold weather locations, keep salt and a shovel near the front door so you do not have to walk on an icy sidewalk in order to reach them. Increase exterior lighting so visitors can see clearly where they are stepping and walking. Install a nightlight along the route between the halls/walkways of your home.
- Make sure your guest’s walker or cane is nearby and available. Encourage them to move slowly from one position to another.
- Secure loose area rugs with double-faced tape or slip-resistant backing, and eliminate any potential tripping hazards like loose electrical cords and rugs. While mood lighting and candles are fun, they aren’t best for those with poor vision. Turn up the lights!
- Arrange furniture for a clear pathway between rooms and remember that pets are also a tripping hazard so be sure they are under control.
- If an older adult is spending the night, put a lamp near the bed so they can turn it on before getting up to use the bathroom at night.
Is there a lit pathway to the bathroom? Put a nightlight in the hallway and bathroom so space is easy to navigate.
- Getting on and off toilets can be challenging. If a toilet is too low, get a raised toilet seat with a bar from a home medical store or have someone help your relative.
If your guest is using the shower, provide a bench and rails to grip if needed.
If something does happen – a slip and fall – don’t let the fact that it’s a holiday delay you from seeking treatment. “As an orthopedic surgeon, we want to fix these fractures within 24 hours because we end up with better outcomes,” said Chakour in the article, who explains that pneumonia and blood clots are common risk factors after hip fracture. There are a substantial number of falls that are preventable and home safety is part of that, but you also want to make sure that your older relative or friend’s vision is evaluated, glasses are up to date, canes and walkers are properly fit to their height and are being used correctly (many people borrow one), and that strength and balance work and exercises are being done on a regular basis.
Brookhouse residents are closely monitored and advised of safe ambulating practices such as using the elevator vs stairs. We also look for trip hazards in residents’ bedrooms like rugs or extension cords as well as clutter.