To say we've had a bad winter is an understatement. There have been days where going outside is treacherous and I am certain that the emergency rooms in every hospital are filled with people who have fallen on the ice. For a senior, the prospect of a fall can be disastrous, especially if a broken bone is the result. We all know a story of someone elderly who broke a hip and ended up with severely compromised mobility and/or permanent disability/dependence.
And weather isn't always the culprit. Not all falls happen outside. Often a senior can fall inside their home as a result of a slippery floor, an unsteady gait, or tripping hazards like area rugs. I know of people who refuse to use a cane or walker; and others who only use them outside even though they need them indoors as well. Few think they will fall; and most think that if they do, they can get up without a problem and without broken bones.
So what's the solution? I suppose prevention is always the ideal and to that end there are Fall Prevention classes that could help. However, as with most 'bad' things that 'may' happen, we are all in denial that we could be subject to a debilitating fall and, attending prevention classes means acknowledging that something could happen..... I would venture to guess that most people wouldn't attend such a class unless they or someone they know has taken a nasty spill and suffered as a result.
If you know a senior who you are concerned about, be proactive and ask them if you can have an OT come to visit who can assess their home for hazards. At the very least, ensure there are no tripping hazards in the home; loose area rugs, wires, etc. Bathroom safety is a big issue too - install bath bars if they will allow you to, so they have some support if the floor or tub is slippery. Speak to their family doctor about your concerns and arrange for a referral to the local LHIN where they can send in an OT to do a safety assessment. Sometimes a doctor the senior trusts will have better luck getting them to accept an assessment than you might!
In one area in Southern Ontario, when an EMT gets a call about someone who has fallen, an OT goes along to assess the situation and discuss prevention. What a great concept! And one that should be rolled out across the province. With advancing technology, I have read stories of all sorts of devices that can detect falls or provide hip padding so falling doesn't result in breaks. We can only hope that in time, prevention with be the norm rather than anecdotal stories we read in the news.
For seniors living alone, encourage them to get an emergency button they wear that they can press if they do fall, so help will come quickly. Encourage them to exercise - many local community or seniors centres have exercise programs for seniors. Exercise has been shown to be good for your bones, balance and fall prevention.
The key to preventing unnecessary falls and injuries is to encourage safety and be proactive about prevention.