When people were kids, teens, even young adults falling down — unless from a great height — wasn’t often viewed as dangerous. In fact, some could find it humorous if no one got hurt. A pratfall, i.e. someone’s feet flying out from under them and a landing on one’s backside, is most always guaranteed a laugh, be it on stage, television or movies.

But there is nothing funny about falling down for seniors, no matter how far the drop. Even a simple stumble can be dangerous, even life-threatening. As we age, it can become easier to lose one’s balance and unexpectedly tumble.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every four older American adult (ages 65 or older) — 30 million — will experience some kind of fall every year. One out of five falls will cause a serious injury. More than half of these falls occur in the home. 

Among the most common injuries are hip fractures  like the one former President Jimmy Carter, 95, sustained in his Plains, Ga. home on Oct. 21. It was the second fall this month for Carter, who still actively works on building houses with Habitat for Humanity. He is lucky; it’s estimated that only 25% make a full recovery from their fall and 40% do not return home. And women account for three-fourths of all hip fractures.

Carter’s latest accident also points to the fact that those who fall once may likely fall again. It’s a leading reason why seniors may lose their independence and mobility. 

But the good news is many falls, if not most, are preventable.

Some of the risk factors leading to falls by seniors include dehydration; clutter and tripping hazards like uneven carpets of tiles in the home; pets unexpectedly in the way; slippery floors, showers and tubs; oxygen tubing; poor lighting in stairwells and hallways; or unsure landings from steps.

Here are some methods to help prevent or lessen the possibility of falling in the home:

— Know the drugs the seniors in your family are taking. If they are taking multiple medication doses on a regular or daily basis, there is a chance for the interacting drugs to cause dizziness or loss of balance. 

— Make a safety inspection of your family member’s residence. Keep an eye out for potential hazards (i.e. pet bowls, electrical cords, throw rugs) and have them placed out of harm’s way.

— Insist upon good, bright lighting. The residence or rooms they are in may be in need of additional lamps or lights in places like bathrooms, hallways, and  stairwells. Speaking of stairs… 

— Check handrails and conditions of the steps inside and outside. Loose, rickety handrails can be a recipe for disaster. Look to make sure there are no carpets, edges or nails able to trip someone coming up or down. You may even want to consider adding reflective tape on the steps as an added precaution.

— Have your seniors get regular medical and eye exams. Even the slightest change in vision can make things more difficult for the elderly.

These are just some of the ways to help protect seniors so they may continue to enjoy a long, happy, and healthy life.

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