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Friday October 23, 2020

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How to Prevent Falls During a Pandemic

My 80-year-old mother, who lives alone and is self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic, has fallen several times. Are there any extra precautions you recommend that can help prevent this?

Falls are a common concern for many elderly adults and their families, especially during the coronavirus pandemic when many seniors are sheltering at home alone.

Each year, more than 1 out of 4 older Americans fall, making it the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for those age 65 and older. Many falls can be prevented. Here are some different tips that can help prevent it.

Encourage exercise: Weak leg muscles and poor balance are two of the biggest risk factors that contribute to falls. Walking, strength training and tai chi are all good for improving balance and strength. There are a number of balance exercises your mom can do any time, such as standing on one foot for 30 seconds then switching to the other foot and walking heel-to-toe across the room. She should consult with her physician prior to undertaking any new exercise regimen.

Review her medications: Does your mom take any medicine, or combination of medicines, that may make her dizzy, sleepy or lightheaded? If so, make a list or gather up all the drugs she takes – prescriptions and over the counter – and contact her doctor or pharmacist for a drug review and potential adjustment.

Get a vision test: Poor vision can be another contributor to falls. Your mom should get her eyes checked once a year and update her eyeglasses when needed. Also be aware that wearing bifocals or progressive lenses can increase the risk of falling, especially when walking outside or going down steps. These lenses can affect depth perception, so she may want to get a pair of glasses with only her distance prescription for outdoor activities.

If your mom is concerned about a visit to her eye doctor during the pandemic, she can get her vision tested online. Put a call in to her eye doctor about this option, or consider some online vision testing sites.

Fall-proof her home: There are a number of simple household modifications you can do to make your mom's living area safer. Start by helping her arrange or move the furniture so there are clear pathways to walk through. Also, pick up items on the floor that could cause her to trip, such as newspapers, shoes, clothes and electrical or phone cords.

If she has throw rugs, remove them or use double-sided tape to secure them.

In the bathroom, use non-skid rugs for the floors and a rubber suction-grip mat or adhesive non-skid tape for the floor of the tub or shower. Install grab bars in and around the tub or shower for support.

Also, make sure the house is well lit. Inexpensive plug-in nightlights for the bathrooms and hallways can help with lighting. If she has stairs, ensure handrails are installed on both sides.

For more tips, see the NIA "fall-proofing your home" web page at NIA.NIH.gov/health/fall-proofing-your-home.

Choose safe footwear: Going barefoot or wearing slippers or socks at home can also increase the risk falls, as can wearing backless shoes, high heels and shoes with smooth leather soles. The safest option for your mom is rubber-sole, low-heel shoes.

Purchase some helpful aids: If your mom needs some additional help getting around, a cane or walker may help. Also, to help ensure your mom's safety and provide you some peace of mind, consider getting her a medical alert device that comes with a wearable emergency button that would allow her to call for help if she were to fall or need assistance.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published September 4, 2020
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