Upcoming holiday gatherings are the perfect opportunity to discuss the health and safety of elderly family members, and if it is possible for them to remain in their own homes.
One of the biggest hazards to aging safely at home? Falls.
Dr. Jim Polo, Executive Medical Director for Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah says, “In the United States, somebody falls every second of every single day.”
Polo says falls are the leading cause of physical injury for people over the age of 65. But many of those falls can be prevented.
“Do a risk assessment and make sure that you’re taking care of those things that might be a problem. For example, low blood pressure, difficulties with vision, or maybe you’re having difficulties with your feet or balance. Your PCP might be able to do some things to help prevent you from falling,” says Polo.
Other tips beyond checking with your primary care physician include:
- Discussing medications regularly taken, if there are side effects that cause dizziness or lethargy, and if alternatives can be taken.
- Staying active – regular exercise can improve muscle strength and balance.
- Taking measures to ensure your home is “fall-proof."
“Make sure the floors are clutter-free. You don’t want to have cords or anything you’re going to trip over, and those areas that may be dark or you may be going up and down stairs, make sure there’s handrails and good lighting,” says Polo.
He says installing safety bars in bathrooms can be a big help, and to check with your health plan, since many pay for the some of these improvements for those who need them.
When it comes to loved ones aging safely at home, it's also a good idea to address mental health.
“A lot of folks have had difficulty with isolation and just being away from other people can create depression, but this time of year seasonal depression also sometimes kicks in for people,” says Polo.
Remaining active, eating well, sleeping well and staying connected are ways to improve mental health.
“This has been a challenging year because of continued social distancing, so even if it’s on the phone, maybe through a video linkup, it’s important to be connected to other people,” says Polo.