May 23, 2018
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Walkers can aid independence in seniors

By Carol Higgins Taylor, Eastern Area Agency on Aging

Falling stars, falling in love, even the fall season are good and wondrous things. But falling down is not — and for seniors, falling can be particularly dangerous.

There are a variety of reasons seniors may take a spill, not the least of which is throw rugs. While these small floor coverings can spruce up the decor, they also can be the cause of extreme misery. So to be safe, get rid of them.

When walking on uneven ground — or if you’re in unfamiliar territory, use a cane. Inexpensive and decorative ones can be found where medical supplies are sold.

If you are unbalanced at all, use a walker. Before you balk, keep reading. With my lovely mother’s permission I will relay her story.

Mom has balance problems and always needed to hang on to something — or someone — when she ventured out.

A few short years ago, I suggested she get a walker. This conversation did not go well as she insisted she’d never give up her independence. I gently explained that she was far more dependent because of her need to hang on to someone, and that by using a walker, which is really just a tool like glasses to improve vision, she could come and go as she pleased.

Without the need to find someone to “hang on to,” she’d be totally on her own. This scenario had not occurred to her, and it wasn’t long before she was sporting a shiny new walker that folded up for easy transportation.

Fast forward a few years. Mom’s life is full and she is always out and about. She is more independent than ever and realizes that a walker is just a metal object that can improve the quality of life. It is not the beginning of the end.

The moral of this story is, if you need help, get it in whatever form that takes.

To further prevent falls, keep pathways clear, store commonly used items in low, easily reached cabinets so that step stools are unnecessary, and have grab bars installed in the bathroom next to the shower and toilet. Wear nightclothes that end above the ankle to avoid tripping.

An all-white bathroom may be pretty, but the eye needs contrast. Everything in one color makes it harder to judge distances properly. A white floor, tub and bath mat can cause problems. While we are touring the bathroom, make a note to put nonslip decals in the tub.

Always wipe up spills immediately — especially water, which is hard to see. If you forget, you could slip on it later. I have done this myself. Be especially careful coming in out of the rain. Walking on a tile or linoleum floor with wet shoes is a slip waiting to happen.

Using nightlights in darkened hallways and bathrooms, and keeping clutter out of pathways and off stairs can prevent a potential tragedy. Also, watch out for electrical cords, and arrange furniture so that it is not protruding into a pathway.

Investing in a cordless phone can be liberating because you can answer it from wherever you happen to be. No more running to grab it before the person calling hangs up.

Carry only items that you can manage comfortably, and don’t load yourself down to save a few steps.

Finally, have your vision checked regularly and corrected, if necessary. When you look down, if the ground looks fuzzy or distorted, tell your doctor. Speak with your doctor if you are taking any medication that makes you dizzy.

A little vigilance and forethought can help keep you upright.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. Email Higgins Taylor at For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, email or visit TTY 992-0150.

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