Everyone wants to thrive, and an important part of living well at any age is feeling safe and secure. For older adults, fear of a fall or feeling isolated can get in the way of living life to its fullest. Luckily, you can help your parent overcome these challenges. In almost every case, staying active is the best thing older adults can do for their health and safety.
Falling safety for seniors
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 36 million falls are reported each year, resulting in three million emergency room visits. The U.S. sees an average of $50 billion in annual medical costs due to falls, and in 2019, falls were the leading cause of death among adults 65 and older.
Preventing falls is an important part of senior safety and well-being. Fortunately, there are many ways to help older adults reduce their risk of a fall.
The best way to prevent falls is to be active. Encouraging the older adults in your life to exercise will improve their strength, flexibility and balance, all of which can help them avoid a fall. That said, we all fall at some point, so learning to fall safely can reduce the chance of an injury. AARP outlines a good fall as: staying loose, keeping knees and elbows bent, protecting the head, and landing on a meaty part of the body (such as your back or butt) to protect bones.
Being aware of medications and their side effects is also critical. Make sure your parent has talked to their doctor about potential fall risks associated with any medications they’re taking. The CDC created a fact sheet of medications that may increase the risk of a fall, as well as helpful questions to ask about medications. Regular eye exams and updating prescriptions ensure older adults can see their environment as clearly as possible.
The last tip for avoiding falls may seem counterintuitive: Don’t live in fear of falling.
Because falls are on the rise as the U.S. population ages, many older adults restrict their activities to avoid situations that might result in a fall. This limited activity, however, leads to weaker muscles and, ultimately, a greater risk of falling.
The National Poll on Healthy Aging found that older adults who indicated a lack of companionship reported 32 percent more falls. In addition to many other benefits, socializing gives older adults a chance to get out and move, which helps maintain fitness.
In the end, one of the best things you can do to help an aging parent avoid a fall is to make sure they keep doing the things they love.
Home maintenance for seniors
Reducing hazards at home is key to reducing the risk of a fall. There are many small changes you and your parent can make to ensure their living space is safe.
- Remove clutter, move or secure cords, and remove or secure throw rugs
- Replace low-wattage light bulbs with brighter ones
- Wear comfortable, non-slip shoes that fit well – even indoors
Not all hazard reduction is easy. From installing shower bars and ramps to cleaning gutters and removing snow, home safety for seniors can be a lot of work. Developing a strong network to help with daily tasks takes the pressure off of you to do everything, and off of your older parent who may still want to do it all.
Medication safety for older adults
Polypharmacy is the regular use of five or more medications, a situation many older adults find themselves in. Whether these medications or supplements are taken for chronic pain, injuries, illness or to deal with the normal effects of aging, medication safety is key to senior safety.
Here are some ideas for how to improve medication safety for seniors.
Talk to a doctor
To get a strong understanding of your parent’s care plan, talk to their doctors – all of them. If your parent has been prescribed medications by multiple doctors for different conditions, make sure each physician is aware of what medications have been prescribed so they can coordinate a safe medication plan.
It’s also important to ask about the interactions between the medications your parent is taking, as well as any interactions with food and beverages. Alcohol, and even common foods like citrus, can impact the effects of some medications.
One of the best ways for older adults to avoid medication mismanagement is to stay healthy and reduce the number of medications needed. Staying up to date on vaccinations can help fight off illnesses like COVID-19, which can trigger or exacerbate other health issues.
Key to health at any age is a sustainable exercise routine. Staying active doesn’t just help reduce falls. It can improve arthritis and reduce the risk of diabetes by helping maintain a healthy weight. Exercise is also powerful medicine for mental health, reducing anxiety and depression, as well as improving brain function and helping new nerves grow.
It’s just as important to kick bad habits as it is to develop good ones. For example, smoking increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and may make it more difficult to stay active.
Finally, healthy eating is another important way to avoid or reduce the impacts of chronic disease. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods and lean proteins can help older adults reduce their risk of cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease.
As the U.S. population ages, polypharmacy increases. While this means staying vigilant about the medications older adults are taking, it also means there are many accessible tools and tips for basic medication management. Here are three ways you can help your parent:
- Use a pill organizer. This convenient tool saves you and your parent the hassle and confusion that can come with reading every label for every medication. It also reduces the risk of missed doses.
- Make a list. Keeping an up-to-date list of all medications, herbs and supplements along with their uses and side effects will help your parent keep track of what they’re taking. It also provides an easy reference when talking to healthcare providers.
- Dispose of expired medications. Reducing the number of bottles and prescriptions lowers the risk of accidentally taking the wrong medication.
If managing medications has become overwhelming for your parent, they may need help. If a friend or family member isn’t available, many care providers offer medication management for older adults. Sometimes, a little help goes a long way in helping an older adult maintain an independent lifestyle.
Mental health and wellness
Senior health and safety isn’t just about avoiding injury. Maintaining independence and a high quality of life also requires having a positive outlook. Socially isolated older adults are at an increased risk of depression, which makes spending time with friends pivotal for good mental and physical health.
One of the best reasons to develop a strong social network is that life is more fun with friends, but the mental health benefits are also high on the list. Here are a few reasons why maintaining relationships – and making news ones – is so important.
- Studies have found that social isolation can take a toll on the immune system and lead to chronic disease.
- A study of U.K. retirement communities found that residents reported being more active, less lonely and enjoyed greater privacy than they did when living alone.
- In addition to enjoying friendly conversation, eating with others encourages people to choose healthier options. Rather than grabbing something quick with little nutrition, dining with others leads to eating better meals more slowly.
No matter where your parent is in their retirement journey, developing a community – whether it’s through church, volunteering, mentoring or hobbies – is important for living healthier, longer.
Safe at home
While there are many issues that can arise in our later years, it’s never too late to start forming healthy habits that help improve safety and quality of life. Even simple actions – from meeting friends for lunch to wearing the right shoes – can make a big difference.
At Holiday by Atria, we offer safe and fun independent senior living communities for older adults. Moving to one of our thoughtfully designed communities means enjoying a lifestyle with freshly prepared meals, opportunities to connect with new friends, a senior safety device and access to third-party care.