Aging Parents: Falls and Fall Prevention-Part 3

“I tell my older patients they should have a night light in their bedroom,” emphasized a highly esteemed practicing physician, on the faculty of a major teaching hospital. I had asked about his experience with older people falling, which he said increased as his long-time patients aged. And he made a case for night lights as he recounted this story about an 89-year-old man in excellent health, mentally sharp, and still working part time, who had recently experienced an avoidable, bad fall.

“Even though they know their surroundings and can find their way in the dark, a night light would have prevented this,” he said. Like many, the elderly man read in bed at night. On this particular night he was reading work from his briefcase which, after finishing, he place on the floor next to his bed. He got up during the night in his unlit room, stepped–then tripped and fell–on the briefcase and papers, and sustained serious bruises, but fortunately no broken bones.

Call a night light an “environmental modification;” call it a “common sense” addition; call it a “using common sense”–like changing from unstable high heels to flattering low heels or flats. There are many “environmental modifications” that can ensure–to the best of our ability– that aging parents’ homes won’t invite falls. Most of us know that scatter rugs are an accident waiting to happen and that grab bars in showers and tubs and near toilets provide stability. It’s also helpful to know about AARP’s free booklet “Taking Steps to Prevent Falling Head Over Heels” (see Saturday’s post), which provides a short, excellent, informative guide to simple adaptations that we can help our parents make.

And while it doesn’t mention the pitfalls of reading in bed and placing the reading material on the floor to trip on (my helpful hit #2), it mentions the value of night lights and good lighting more than a few times.

So check out AARP’s website and search “fall prevention” and “steps to prevent falling” in some of the bulletins and pamphlets (first result). (“Better Balance Prevents Falls” is an example). Also search “inner ear and balance” for more specifics on this past Saturday’s post.

Additional helpful information can be found in the book, “Fall Prevention,” by Gail Davies and Fran Scully (Infinity Publishing, 2006) and at: provides a “basics” fact sheet for downloading. It reminds us that a person is more likely to fall if he or she is 80 or older or has fallen in the past;

The above reinforces the importance of letting aging parents know we won’t dump them in assisted living if they tell us they have fallen. Obviously we’re trying to help parents age well, so it’s important to gain an understanding of why they fell and possibly involve their physician– (which shifts the responsibility from us and we avoid seeming like were meddling).

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