Dear Savvy Senior: 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? — Concerned Daughter
Dear Concerned: 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 in 4 older Americans fall, making it the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for those age 65 and older. But many falls can be prevented. Depending on what’s causing your mom to fall, 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 cause seniors to fall. Walking, strength training and tai chi are all good for improving balance and strength, as are a number of balance exercises your mom can do anytime like standing on one foot for 30 seconds then switching to the other foot, and walking heel-to-toe across the room.
For additional balance and leg strengthening exercises, see AgeBold.com.
>> Review her medications: Does your mom take any medicine, or combination of medicines, that 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 adjustment.
>> Get a vision test: Poor vision can be another contributor to falls, so your mom should get her eyes checked once a year and be sure to update her eyeglasses if needed. Also be aware that if your mom wears bifocal or progressive lenses, they too can cause falls, 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 trip into her eye doctor during the pandemic, she can get her vision tested online. Call her eye doctor about this option, or consider some online vision testing sites like Essilor.com or 6over6.com. And to buy eyeglasses online, some popular options include WarbyParker.com and ZenniOptical.com.
>> 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 and pick up items on the floor that could cause her to trip like newspapers, shoes, clothes, electrical or phone cords.
If she has throw rugs, remove them or use double-sided tape to secure them.
In the bathroom buy some 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, and have a carpenter install grab bars in and around the tub/shower for support.
Also, make sure the lighting throughout the house is good, purchase some inexpensive plug-in nightlights for the bathrooms and hallways, and if she has stairs, put handrails on both sides.
For more tips, see the National Institute on Aging’s “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 cause falls, as can wearing backless shoes, high heels, and shoes with smooth leather soles. The safest option for your mom is rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes.
>> Purchase some helpful aids: If your mom needs some additional help getting around, get her a cane or walker. 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.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.