Many families don’t realize how much a loved one’s health has deteriorated until a fall sends her to the hospital. Falls are one of the most common, and most serious, health issues among seniors. And the resulting injuries can dramatically alter a senior’s quality of life.
The good news is that many falls can be prevented with a few simple home improvements. Since seniors are particularly susceptible to falling after a hospital visit, it’s especially important to make their home as safe as possible upon discharge.
- Keep floors clear. Be sure to pick up clutter, secure loose rugs, keep electrical cords tucked away, and arrange furniture so that it doesn’t extend into walkways. It’s also a good idea to remove any raised thresholds in the house.
- Ensure adequate lighting. Make sure there’s a light switch near the bedroom door and another switch or a lamp by the bed, so your parent won’t have to walk across a dark room. Also use nightlights in the halls and bathroom. Those with daylight or motion sensors are an especially good choice, since no one has to remember to turn them on.
- Make stairs safe. Sturdy handrails are essential, but you’ll also want to discourage your senior from carrying things up and down the stairs. When that’s unavoidable, your parent should hold the item in one hand and the rail in the other. (A reminder never hurts!)
Provide Assistance after Release
Returning home can be disorienting. After a hospital stay, seniors are typically weak from spending so much time in bed. Some medications may cause balance or cognitive problems. Plus, once they’re home, many seniors are eager to be independent and rush into activities they’re not ready to handle on their own. Others worry about being a burden, and therefore don’t ask for assistance.
During her hospital stay, your parent probably depended heavily on the staff for help with dressing, toileting, and bathing. At least in the first few days at home she’ll likely need similar care. You may want to provide some or all of this care yourself. But an in-home caregiver is also a great fit in this situation, since you can hire a caregiver for more hours at first and then reduce as your parent gets better. One of the biggest risks is during the night, when a newly discharged patient wakes up to use the bathroom, gets out of bed, becomes disoriented, and falls again. Having a caregiver for an overnight shift might be the right solution here.
Prevent Future Falls
It’s important for your parent to jump back into physical and social activities as soon as possible after a hospital visit. Encourage friends and family to stop by or, if possible, take your parent out.
Work with her doctor to address any problems associated with vision, hearing, or medication, since all of these can affect balance. Also help her incorporate physical exercise into her daily routine. Simple activities that increase strength, range of motion, and balance can prevent future falls.
Even if your senior has already taken a fall, there are many things you can do to avoid additional falls, more serious injuries, and lengthier hospital visits.