Wendy Carew

Wendy Carew

Population Health Lead at the NE Local Health Integration Network

Staying Safe in Your Castle

Jan 28, 2021 | Blog, Knowledge Exchange

February 2021 blog post written by Wendy Carew, Population Health Lead at the NE Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).

My home is my castle…and my safest refuge”. This saying takes on new meaning during the pandemic, as everyone spends significantly more time at home.  This old English proverb suggests your home is your domain, you are the ultimate ruler, and you have ultimate responsibility for it. However, for older adults, their home is where many injuries happen, most of which are due to falls.  Being at home also represents the independence of older adults – their ability to “age at home”. In the 2016 census, for the first time in Canada, adults over the age of 65 outnumber children under the age of 15. In fact, the population of Canadians over the age of 85 is growing four times more quickly than the overall population.  

Due to the pandemic, most older adults are spending significantly more time at home. Quarantining to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is vital, but how do we make sure the home is “the safest refuge”? What risks might all this “at home” time bring, particularly for older adults? Being at home may contribute to a reduction in physical activity and increased exposure to home hazards, resulting in a decline of health and well-being for older adults and increased chances of falling. 

Thanks to Parachute Canada for providing very useful resource to help prevent falls, including this entertaining video of a son and his mom talking about falls prevention: EXPLAINING FALL PREVENTION TO MY MOM – YouTube.

As mentioned in the video, falls are the number one reason for injury-related hospitalizations among older adults. In fact, 1.6 million seniors in Canada fall ever year, almost half have a serious injury such as a fracture or sprain, and falls cause 95% of hip fractures in those over 65 years of age. Even before the pandemic, 50% of all falls (in those aged 65+) resulting in hospitalization happened in the home, and usually on a flat surface.  

The good news is falls are preventable. Keeping older adults safe at home is everyone’s business, whether you are a spouse, family member, friend or caregiver, you can help older adults stay on their feet. Staying active by building strength, balance, and flexibility is the most important way older adults can prevent falls.  Pre-pandemic, it was widely understood that older adults do not get the recommended type or duration of exercise needed to enjoy the health benefits of physical activity. This is even more concerning now that most daily activities outside the home are on hold.  

Although not accessible to all older adults, virtual exercise options are offered by a variety of providers. The NE Stay on Your Feet strategy provides links to a variety of options on their website SOYF Let’s be Active. There are also resources available through organizations like Parachute Canada. Enjoy this video while the son and mom discuss the importance of physical activity: BRITTLESTAR & HIS MOM: FALL PREVENTION EXERCISES ARE EASY… FOR SOME – YouTube

Interventions to improve home safety appear to be effective, especially in people at higher risk of falling and when carried out by Occupational Therapists. Even without the expertise of an Occupational Therapist, taking some simple measures can reduce the chances of being injured at home due to a fall.  It is important to identify, remove and report hazards in and around the home and there are many different tools to help you do just that. For example, the Stay on Your Feet (SOYF) Home Safety Checklist takes the user on a tour of the house, inside and outside, allowing you to spot risks, make simple improvements, and list what needs to be done. Get a copy at SOYF Home Safety Checklist available in both French and English or checkout this resource from the Government of Canada the Safe Living Guide . Enjoy the final video while mom and son talk about home hazards: BRITTLESTAR & HIS MOM: STAND FOR CLEAR FLOORS – YouTube.

Unfortunately, the end of the pandemic isn’t in sight with quarantining expected to continue. Everyone has a role to help older adults stay safe “in their castle”. Encouraging and supporting regular physical activity and removing home hazards will go a long way to keeping our older adults healthy, safe and living independently.

About the Author

Wendy Carew is the Population Health Lead at the NE Local Health Integration Network. Stay on Your Feet (SOYF) is the NE’s fall prevention strategy.