Falling in the case of a senior citizen, is a great concern especially to their family and caregivers. Chris Williams is a certified personal trainer that has been working with assisted living homes and communities for over 17 years now in Austin, Texas. During his time, he has noticed a direct link between a reduction in the incidence of falls in seniors with the increase of their balance in his elderly clients.
10 Assisted Living Designs to Prevent Falls in Seniors
Emeritus Health was founded by Chris Williams in Florida. There, he also created the Balance University which aims to reduce the risk of senior falls. It is a 10-week exercise program specifically designed for seniors to improve their balance. This is totally free which is a plus for seniors who do not have access or cannot afford a physical therapist or a personal trainer.
William shares that since balance is the foundation of all movement, we must maximize the four pillars of exercise (postural exercise, leg and core strength, flexibility, and balance) needed to achieve this.
Bryan Adams, the Chief Commercial Officer at GreatCall (which develops connected health tech for aging actively) shares that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 1 in 4 adults who experience fall every year that results to head injuries, fractured or broken bones, and even fatalities. Poor balance is one of the leading causes of falls, but the risk is not only limited to physical pain.
Falls are not only painful but also costly. Fall-related hospitalization and rehabilitation range at about $35,000 according to Adam. However, families and our elderly loved ones often forget one of the most devastating costs of the fall – the emotional and psychological after-effects.
Both specialists dedicate their work to assisted living communities in hopes of reducing the risks of falls, but in today’s time, communities are already doing so much more. Fall prevention features are now built-in in every aspect of the building – whether it be a remodel, or a newly built one.
Below are some of the ways we can reduce falls in assisted living communities by also keeping our residents safe:
1. Fitness centers and balance training for residents
A lot of assisted living communities are equipped with extensive fitness and rehabilitation centers. These features help residents in focusing their strength to exercising that will also help improve their overall health and wellness that in turn will reduce the risks of falls. Making a group fitness class is one way to encourage seniors to go exercise. This will not only improve their balance but also prevent osteoporosis and promote their cardiovascular system.
William recommends for families to ask about the community’s balance program and amenities as early as your first visit so that you can easily pick in the future.
2. Maximize the colors and materials in your spaces
As we grow older, our body also grows and matures – most of our major bodily functions starts to deteriorate. One of the fastest one to do so is our eyesight. It begins with not being able to differentiate easily similar colors, then comes the shapes. In some cases, if the designer of the assisted living community puts a magazine stand on the floor with the same color as the wall then residents may not see it, causing a potential fall.
Objects and furniture on the ground should always have contrasting colors so it would be more visible. In this line, furniture and objects made of glass are dis-encouraged since our seniors won’t be able to see it.
3. Maximize technology for fall prevention
A lot of assisted living technologies make use of mobile and built-in technology such as mobile personal emergency response system or PERs. Adam shares that assisted living communities that partner with PERs are able to let their residents wear a mobile medical alerting device that they can use in case of emergencies. A quick response can help in preventing the risks of falls.
4. Check the flooring
Designers are making use of several different types of flooring depending on its location in the community. Medical rooms and kitchen will need smoother floors so it can be cleaned easily while the common area and bedrooms have soft carpets. These changes are now incorporated into the community’s design to address specific needs. Grab bars are placed in the bathrooms for easier access as well as to minimize the chances of falls while showering, tiles are also switched with smaller ones for traction.
The use of proper flooring is a step to minimizing potential falls, but ensuring that these are well kept and maintained is the key.
5. Getting on ramps and railings
It is imperative that every resident be able to go on each area of their home by themselves. This is in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act that requires a maximum steep level of 4.8 degrees when building railings and ramps.
It’s important that all residents can access all the areas of their home, by themselves. That’s why communities today are built in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires that ramps be no steeper than 4.8 degrees.
Every stairways and ramps in communities are required to have railings on both sides (left and right). If it’s a wide staircase, there must be a railing on the center as well. It may seem like simple detail but these will not only enhance traffic flow but also reduce the risks of falls.
6. Lighting and fixtures
While communities would prefer energy and cost efficient lighting, residents are more prone to tripping hazards when walking around dimly-lit spaces.
Fortunately, there are now smart technologies and design solutions that allow lights to be automatically switched on and off by using voice commands. Placing pull cords and strategically placing light switches next to beds and entryways are also suggested.
7. Steps and stairs
The way an assisted living community is built and designed can make a huge impact on preventing falls. Newer communities already have elevator access, though a lot of seniors still prefers to take the steps and stairs to remain sharp. This is also designed in cases of emergencies and power outages. With these, designers should consider designing wider staircases with railings and non-slip features. Avoid putting decorations as well to avoid tripping hazards.
8. Storage Spaces
Moving into assisted living communities will require less stuff than while you’re still living at your own homes. Still, designers should still include ample storage spaces during planning. Safety and functionality should be the main concern. A closet and a shelf would suffice for their personal belongings.
9. Check for walk-in baths
Since it is inevitable for bathrooms to not be slippery, designers of assisted living communities should consider every possible way to provide support to its residents by installing railings and non-slip surfaces for safety purposes. Even if staffs or caregivers help our elderly loved ones in the bath, it is still safer for all if bathtubs and showers are walk-in for them to step into easily.
10. Zero entries
Choose a community with zero entries. This feature makes accessibility a non-issue. It is easier for both residents and caregivers to go on from one area to another.
As caregivers, you must have these features in mind when choosing which assisted living community is best for your senior loved ones.
As you go and examine assisted living communities for your elderly loved ones, consider always the design choice and programs that can help your loved ones prevent the risk of falls. This goes for even if they are on medicare If at one point you’re not sure what design is for, feel free to always ask. Minor considerations today will go a long way for your loved ones tomorrow.