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I am concerned about falls and my elderly parents!

Posted: May 16, 2017, 10:18AM

Did you know that falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for people 65 and over?  Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones, and head trauma.  Falls can cause an older adult to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active, and sometimes creating such fear that they avoid going out.

Quite often, falls can be prevented.  Be aware of common factors that can lead to a fall:

* Balance and gait.  As we age, many of us lose some coordination, flexibility and balance.  Inactivity worsens these issues, making it easier to fall.

* Vision.  As we age, less light reaches the retina which makes contrasting edges, tripping hazards and obstacles harder to see.

* Medications.  Many medications (prescription and over-the-counter) can cause dizziness, dehydration or interactions with each other which can lead to a fall.

* Environment.  What can be done to modify our homes to reduce fall risk?

* Chronic health issues.  More than 90% of older adults have at least one chronic conditin such as stroke, diabetes or arthritis that can increase the risk of falling because they result in lost function, inactivity, depression, pain or multiple medications.

So - now we know some of the risk factors, what can we do to reduce falls?

* Check with your family member.  Are they afraid of falling?  If they are experiencing dizziness or balance issues, or if they are afraid of falling, suggest they talk to their primary care provider who can assess risk.  Would they qualify for physical therapy for strengthening or balance?  Physical therapy can be provided on an out-patient basis for those older adults who can get out of the home or they may qualify for home therapy.  Medicare guidelines must be met and a physician's referral is needed for Medicare coverage of the therapy.

* Assess current health conditions.  Do you see changes in their ability to do things they used to do easily?  Is memory a factor?  Are they taking their medications appropriately or are they experiencing side effects?  Make sure they are taking advantage of the health benefits offered through Medicare such as the annual wellness check up.  Here, too, encourage open discusion with their health care provider.

* Assess vision changes.  When was the last eye exam?  An eye exam can detect any eye disesases (such as cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration) or vision changes.  Tint-changing lenses can be hazardous when going from bright light to darkened buildings.  Change glasses when you go inside.  Bifocals cause problems for some people so caution is urged with steps, curbs, and other areas with elevation differences, or with patterned flooring.

* Does your loved one "furniture walk" or hold onto walls when they walk?  Perhaps they need a walking aid such as a cane or walker.  Here, too, the physician may refer your loved one for a physical therapy assessment.  Physical therapists can help with balance, strengthening, and gait improvement.  They can also provide guidance on the use of walking aids.

* Assess medications.  What is the medication schedule?  Can your loved one follow the schedule?  A pill minder or timed medication dispenser may help with dosing and timing.  When assessing medications, do not forget to include over-the-counter meds.  These may include sleep aids or herbal/alternative medicine preparations.  These can lead to balance and dizziness issues.  Your physician or pharmacist can be helpful in identifying safer alternatives.

* Conduct a safety assessment of the home.  What about lighting?  Increased lighting throughout the house, especially at the top and bottom of steps, can increase safety.  Night lights are valuable if your loved one gets up at night.  Make sure there are rails on stairs - on both sides.  Install grab bars in the tub/shower, and near the commode.  Make sure they are properly positioned and anchored securely.  A shower chair or transfer tub seat and hand held shower may increase safety.  The Centers for Disease Control offers a home safety checklist on their website.

* Exercise programs and activities such as Tai Chi can help with strengthening and balance.


Source:  National Council on Aging,



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