How Care Partners Can Help to Reduce the Risk of Falls in the Home

Senior Falls
Engage the senior. Don't tell them what to do when it comes to fall prevention safety.

The risk of a fall that can result in a life-altering injury increases with age. However, there are steps that in-home care partners—also known as family caregivers—can take to reduce the risks for an elder loved one.

The first thing to do is communicate successfully together. Here are some tips on what to say to foster healthy communication and truly make a difference—and also what not to say—when wanting to make your loved one’s home a safer place:

  1. Start by inviting them to give you input. You might say, “Mom, do you have a few minutes to jot down some ideas about hiring someone to do some work around the house?” or “Mom and Dad, can we get your opinions on some things?”
  2. Listen to how they answer your queries. The conversation ice-breakers are not a ruse to get them over to your side or trick them into agreeing with your point-of-view, but a genuine way to learn their perspective.
  3. It is natural to offer to help, but experts caution against using the word “help” as it can offend some people and put them on the defensive.
  4. Don’t wait until there is a crisis to have a conversation about someone’s possible future care needs. This works best as a “What if?” discussion rather than a “What now?” talk.
  5. Practice first. Whether by writing a letter you don’t intend to deliver or looking in a mirror, try out this conversation on your own first to get really comfortable with your own thoughts and goals.

    Once you have communicated and you and your loved one have a goal in common to make their home more safe, know where to start. Go room to room in the house looking for potential trip or fall hazards:

    In the living room:

    *Is the room well lit and are light switches easy to find and use? If there is a need for lighting updates, make this an opportunity to shop and redecorate rather than taking away a treasured lamp or light fixture.

    *Are there loose rugs on the floor? Someone using a cane or walker or wearing loose-fitting footwear might trip over a rumpled rug. Again, instead of suggesting that your loved one discard a special item, find a positive spin. Maybe bring in magazines or catalogs with pictures of hardwood floors or wall-to-wall carpeting to create a new look.

    *Do electrical cords create a fall risk? Plan an outing to shop for one of the many devices that can attractively and safely conceal cords used to plug in lights, televisions, humidifiers, and other electronics.

    In the bathroom:

    *Where can they grab on to stop a fall on a slippery surface? Nearly every inch of a typical bathroom is slippery—and that’s before it gets wet. The installation of grab bars in the tub and/or shower and on either side of the toilet will likely require professional help.

    *Can you add carpet? A carpet in the bathroom can make the floor less slick and therefore safer, as well as make this room more cozy.

    *Is the bathroom well lit for nighttime use?

    There are many medical reasons that someone may need to use the bathroom at night when others are asleep. For this reason, it is wise to install a nightlight. However, if the idea of a nightlight is humiliating, shop for one that reflects your loved one’s unique interests and preferences. For example, if they love the beach, find a seashell nightlight.

    In the bedroom:

    *Is there clutter? If there are dirty clothes, blankets, and other paraphernalia piled up on the floor, provide a hamper for easy disposal of these items.

    *Can they see in the nighttime? Waking in the middle of the night can sometimes be disorienting so install a nightlight in the bedroom and verify that paths are clear for any nighttime walking.

    In the kitchen:

    *Is the food in the refrigerator fresh? Expired or rotting food can be a sign that a loved one can no longer prepare meals for themselves. Once you have determined the cause for this problem, there are many solutions that can have numerous benefits: would this person like to have meals delivered? Would they like to make plans to share meals with friends or loved ones on a regular basis by going out or having meals brought over? Can you prepare and freeze meals in advance for them to reheat later?

    When insuring the safety of a loved one’s home, remember to engage with them and not tell them what they are going to lose. This is a time of empowering them to make themselves safer too.

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