The process of aging brings about many changes to an elderly person’s ability to move around. Changes such as muscle weakness, joint problems and neurological difficulties can all contribute to mobility issues in an older person. Mobility issues can lead to falls, which can lead to broken bones, bruises and even death.
Take the following prevention steps to keep the stairs safe for elders:
- Do a Home Safety check: If you have a person of age 60 and older living at home, make a conscious effort to do a home safety check and eliminate any trip or fall hazards around the house. If you cannot do this on your own, take the help of a Home Care Nurse, an Occupational Therapist or a Physical Therapist who can visit the home, identify hazards and make recommendations for safety. These are some tips to keep in mind.
- Make sure stairs are well lit, especially at the top and bottom areas.
- There are no rugs or thick carpets that can cause a person to slip.
- There are no screws or objects sticking out from the walls.
- The floors are not highly waxed and slip proof material is used where necessary.
- The floors have no clutter like toys, cords, wires or other items.
- Water on the floor is immediately dried off or made known through “Wet Floor” sign board.
- Where possible, it is helpful to move the elderly person’s room to the ground level where they would not need to use the stairs very often.
- Strengthen through Physical Activity: Help the person get into shape by doing regular exercises that can strengthen their muscles. Simple exercises such as Gait (Walking) training, stretching, balance and coordination exercises can help them avoid a potential fall by improving their flexibility, balance and steadiness while walking. It is also important for them to practice how to get up from the floor in case of a fall, much before the fall occurs. A Physiotherapist or Occupational Therapist can assist with the right exercises.
- Assisting them: When assisting someone to go up or down the stairs, make sure to take one step at a time and do not be in a rush. If a hand rail is available, make sure they hold on to it. When going up stairs, let them lead with their stronger foot. When going down stairs, tell them to lead with their weaker foot. While descending the stairs, stand in front of the person you are assisting. When ascending the stairs, stand behind the person so that you can support them in case they lose their balance.
- Discuss their fear of falling: Fear of falling haunts many older individuals, especially those who have had a fall previously. This fear can lead them to avoiding daily activities, limiting their social life and reduced self-confidence. By encouraging them through repeated practise and training, they will be able to build their confidence and raise their activity level.
- Using Proper footwear: The wrong footwear can increase the risk of falling on stairs. Older people prefer comfort above anything, but they should be guided on purchasing well-fitting footwear for their safety at home and outside. Shoes with a slip resistant sole, high back or collar to support the ankle and a low heel is recommended. Slippers, sandals and socks that easily slip off should be avoided.
- Using proper walking aids: Someone with even a little balancing issue should be advised to use a walking aid such as a cane or walker. A physiotherapist can provide recommendations on the right walking aids with the proper height adjustments. See below video to know the right way to walk up and down the stairs using a walking aid.
- Medication that might increase the risk of falling: It is common for the elderly to be taking medication that have been associated with falling. These are medication that can affect the brain, blood pressure or blood sugar. Speak to their healthcare team to re-evaluate their treatment and dosage needs and make adjustments where possible.
- Check their vision and hearing: Vision and hearing loss is an overlooked risk factor in older adults. Getting the right vision and hearing aids can help make them more aware of their environment.
- Installing Home Adaptations: If going up and down the stairs have become an issue, installing home adaptations is a practical, economical and safe option. Before making any decisions about buying the equipment, it is advisable to speak to an Occupational Therapist. Most trusted Home Medical Equipment companies would have an Occupational Therapist or a specialist trained in Assistive Technology to guide you with your buying decision. Some of the equipment you can install are:
- Stair Lift: Stair lifts are mounted on the wall or stair fixed tracks that follow the line of the stairs. They come as straight stair tracks for stairs that are straight or Curved tracks are available for those staircases that have a bend or curve. Stair lifts come in various options – Sitting, standing and perching and even with a wheelchair platform option. They are quite safe to use and come with a safety belt, and automatically stop if they detect anything on the stairs, thus preventing accidents.
- Ramps: Ramps can be useful for those who have mobility aids to move around. It is important to have a specialist install a ramp as their specifications should be chosen very carefully. Care should be taken for the surface of the ramp and the landing areas.
- Hand Rails: Anyone over the age of 60 should get into the habit of holding on to railings while moving up or down the stairs, whether at home or outside. Hand rails placed on either side of the stairs can make the elderly person feel safe as they have someone to hold on to.
- Vertical Lifts: Installing vertical lifts require more space than a stair lift and can need structural alterations to the property. It is essential that a qualified engineer installs the lift and regular inspection and maintenance is carried out at least every 6 months.
- Medical Alert Systems: You would want to consider a medical alert service if you are concerned of the elderly person’s risk of falling. Fall detection devices can detect falls and can automatically place a call for help, with or without the need to push the help button. It works 24/7 and can be GPS tracked as well. They usually come in the form of a pendant.
By taking the necessary precautions, seniors should be able to safely navigate the stairs without the need to be worried.
Health in aging
Adaptive Equipment Corner – YouTube