Preventing falls and safe mobility in the home

woman sitting on stair elevator
stair elevator
Falls prevention strategies and assistive devices can help seniors with osteoporosis remain in their own homes as long as possible.

Falls are a major concern for older people, and in particular for the high percentage of seniors who suffer from osteoporosis or are prone to falls.

It’s a serious matter: Injuries from falls are a major cause of long-term disability and loss of independence amongst older people. Hip fractures are the most serious, with high mortality rates in the first year after a hip fracture and profound loss of function and independence among survivors. Forty per cent are unable to walk independently and 60% require assistance a year later. Because of these losses, 33% of hip fracture sufferers are totally dependent or in a nursing home in the year following the fracture.

Older people themselves all speak with one voice: they want to be able to remain in their own homes and live independently for as long as possible. Falls prevention and safe mobility to prevent potentially devastating fractures are therefore of great importance to seniors.

Fortunately, there are ways to help seniors with osteoporosis, high falls-risk or mobility problems continue to live safe, independent lives in their own home.

Falls prevention is the first step

Fall proofing the home is a logical first step in preventing falls and resulting fractures. The typical home has a number of potential risk points for causing an accidental fall. For people who have good mobility and who do not suffer from osteoporosis, these risks are not a major issue. But for those with weak bones due to osteoporosis, these are severe risks:

  • Low level lighting
  • Obstacles in the walking path
  • Loose rugs
  • Highly polished floors
  • Steps and stairs
  • Baths and showers without any assistive devices
  • Slippery paths and terraces outside

With a little foresight and planning, these are all fall risks that can be dealt with.

Assistive devices to help you remain safe and mobile

To support the objective of promoting independence, a number of assistive devices for the individual or the home are now on the market. These devices are designed to help older people affected by conditions such as osteoporosis to continue to lead safe, fulfilling lives in their own home. Depending on where you live, you may be eligible for grants or tax credits that will help reduce the cost of purchasing specifict assistive devices.

In some cases the alternative answer to this process of making one’s home more suitable may be to move to another home, a smaller house or a bungalow for instance. But this will not suit everyone; people have their own preferences for the type of house they want to live in or they may be reluctant to leave their existing local support network. The following examples of assistive devices are relevant to a wide variety of living situations:

  • Medical walkers and walking canes – These devices can give the assurance of greater stability to those who have a condition which causes them to be unsteady on their feet. Walkers and canes are suitable for use in the home and outside, though a cane is a little more flexible and versatile than a walker in the types of settings in which it can be used.
  • Handrails – Handrails are relatively straightforward to fit and can be made reasonably unobtrusive, but they can make a major difference to an older person’s ability to get about his or her home. In the bathroom and wherever there is a step are the most common locations for placing a handrail.
  • Walk-in showers – For a person whose mobility is limited, a conventional bath or shower presents a major challenge. If that person also has osteoporosis, the risk of serious injury from any resulting fall is increased. Installing a walk-in shower in the existing bathroom, or converting it to a wet-room, is a sensible adaptation which is also suitable for use by other family members or guests.
  • Hip protectors, neck collars and back braces – Hip protectors are padded devices which can be worn as a belt or incorporated into underwear. The idea is to protect the wearer’s hip bones from some of the impact of a fall or slip. Neck collars and back braces are designed to support and stabilise the neck or back of osteoporosis patients who have previously sustained injuries to the vertebrae.
  • Reaching aids – There are a range of devices on the market which help a person who is unsteady on his or her feet to reach for an item safely, without stretching or over-balancing.
  • Seat lifts – Some osteoporosis patients struggle with getting onto their feet from a chair, which can often put them at risk of a fall. A seat lift helps the individual raise him or herself from a sitting position, gradually and steadily, up to a standing position.
  • Wheelchairs and electric buggies – For osteoporosis patients whose symptoms preclude walking for any distance, a wheelchair or electric buggy can provide the lifeline which allows that person to go out from their home, do some shopping, or visit friends and family.
  • Stair lifts – Negotiating the stairs in one’s home presents a particular risk point for older people who are vulnerable to slips and falls. Not only are stairs difficult to manoeuvre for people with restricted mobility, but the potential severity of any injury sustained is much greater than that which would result from a fall on a level surface. Stair lifts offer the older person a means of getting safely up and down stairs independently. Whilst installing a stair lift is without doubt a significant cost, it is an investment which can make the difference between a person being able to continue living independently in their own home or having to consider moving into residential care.

Related reading:
Don’t Fall - Interesting site about the prevention of falling. Includes articles, tip and advice.
Osteoporosis Safety and Assistive Devices | - Article on the various mobility, safety and assistive devices available for those with osteoporosis.

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