Brain COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured Injury Prevention Wellness

Tips for preventing falls in the elderly during the COVID-19 pandemic

Happy, active senior

Over the course of the current pandemic, many elderly people have remained at home and self-isolating to help protect against COVID-19.  Elderly people may be isolated from those they rely on most for additional supports, whether it be regular check-ins from family, friends, or other health care services. While important, self-isolation can also lead to an increased risk of falls for seniors at home, especially those with cognitive impairment or mobility issues.

A fall can result in hip fractures, cuts as well as serious head and brain injuries.

In some cases, when an outside support is not available to help assess a person’s home for obstacles that can pose risks for falls, it may be up to the individual to modify their home environment.

The following tips can help seniors prevent falls and maintain independence, as more people stay home throughout the pandemic.

Everyday tips

Here are some easy, everyday ways to stay healthy, keep safe, and help prevent falls:

Don’t avoid blood tests or doctor’s appointments:  Avoid falls by keeping up with your health. Going to virtual care appointments with your health-care team, even during the pandemic, is important for maintaining your health. Blood tests or other investigations can help determine if there is anything of concern medically that might increase your risk of falls. Physicians can help explain what has been found on any tests, review your medications and go over next steps.

Wear glasses, hearing aids and use mobility aids within the home: Many people are comfortable at home and remove sensory and gait aids that actually help prevent falls. Don’t let your guard down and be sure to wear your assistive devices inside and around your home. Clearer vision can help individuals be more aware of what’s around them in order to stay safe and avoid a fall. Improved hearing can alert a person to sounds that could pose danger and in turn, help prevent injury. Be sure to use your cane, walker or other mobility aids as recommended by your healthcare professional.

Wear a helpline button or other wearable assistive technology: There are numerous devices that can help detect a fall or alert help quickly with the push of a button or use of your voice, in the event of an emergency.

Stay active: It is important for seniors to maintain strength, coordination and balance. Staying active — through online virtual exercise programs, safely distanced outdoor programs, and/or walking — can help elderly people maintain physical and bone health to prevent falls and related injuries.

Eat a well-balanced diet: Maintaining good nutrition can help an individual stay active and provide energy and strength to assist with fall prevention. Foods that are a source of calcium and vitamin D are helpful for bone health. A well-balanced diet will help avoid vitamins and mineral deficiencies that can increase the risk of falls.

Stay hydrated:  What does drinking water, milk, fruit juice, tea, or coffee have to do with preventing falls? Drinking around eight cups of liquid each day can help prevent headaches and dizziness. Ensuring proper hydration can prevent lightheadedness and dehydration that can lead to falls, especially in the hot summer months.

Stay connected: Have a family member or friend check-in regularly by phone or virtual chat. Not only is it a nice way to keep in touch, it’s a great to have an extra set of eyes and ears to provide additional support.

Home safety tips

Seniors can take simple steps to improve the safety at home, indoors and out!

Wear proper footwear: It is important for individuals to wear sturdy, non-slip and well-fitted shoes to remain steady on their feet. Old slippers and socks can be slippery and pose a fall risk. If shoes are not comfortable, consider wearing socks with no-slip material on the soles of the feet.

Remove or secure carpets: They may be beautiful but pose a significant fall risk. Throw rugs or loose carpet can pose a tripping hazard. Removing these items can help improve safety around the house or secure them to the ground using double sided tape or slip resistant backings.

Install study handrails for stairs: Having a sturdy support for going up and down the stairs is essential. Stairs leading to and from basements or the front of the house are high risk areas for falls so ensure appropriate handrails are installed to provide extra support and prevent against falls.

Install grab bars for the bathroom: Grab bars are helpful in preventing injury while a person is getting on and off a toilet or stepping into or out of the shower. Other ways to help decrease the risk for falling in the bathroom is to use anti-slip mats or nonslip strips in the bathtub or shower, raised toilet seats or one with armrests, and a shower chair with a non-slip seat and sturdy feet.

Reduce clutter and brighten up your home: De-cluttering can help clear items that could be an obstacle or cause a fall. Remove potential fall hazards such as electrical cords or other items from high-traffic areas to provide a clear path around the house and easy movement in and around rooms. Ensure there is proper lighting through the home and install a nightlight or motion-sensor lighting for nighttime visits to the bathroom.

About the author

Dr. Sara Mitchell

Dr. Sara Mitchell is a neurologist at Sunnybrook whose expertise is in the diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. She has a specific interest in the interface between neurology and psychiatry. Dr. Mitchell is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto. She is also a frequent contributor to CBC Life.