Help Your Aging Parents Lower Their Fall Risk
Help Your Aging Parents Lower Their Fall Risk
Each year 3 million older adults seek treatment at the hospital after a fall. More than 27,000 of them will die as a result of their fall injuries, and many more will experience disabilities that lead to a loss of independence. Falls are a major public health problem, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And while the effects of a fall can be life-changing and life-threatening for an aging parent, the fear of falling is also a serious threat. “Sometimes after they’ve fallen or have been told by their doctor that they are at high risk of falling, older adults will decide it’s best to avoid physical activity,” reports Cissie Gerber, Asst. Agency Manager, Right at Home North Suburban Chicago. “This leads to loss of stamina and muscle strength which, in turn, increases their fall risk.”
Gerber has found that sometimes caregivers inadvertently play a part in this downward cycle. How often do you find yourself urging your aging parent to take it easy? Instead of creating unnecessary tension by visibility fretting or worrying, here are some science-based steps you can take with your loved one to help reduce their risk of fall injury.
1. Talk to their doctor about your risk factors. Does your parent have health conditions such as arthritis, vision loss, osteoporosis or memory loss? These conditions can increase their likelihood of falling. It’s important for them to be open with their doctor about their fall history. The CDC reports half of seniors injured in a fall don’t tell their doctor about it—but they should. Falling just once doubles the chance of falling again. Keeping quiet about it could mean missing out on some valuable fall prevention advice.
2. Get enough exercise, and the right kind. Ask their doctor to “prescribe” an exercise program which will likely include activities to strengthen muscles, build endurance, increase flexibility, and improve balance. There’s an exercise program for almost everyone, no matter their abilities. Gyms, senior centers, and recreation centers offer senior exercise classes though, these days, exercises they can do at home may be more practical. Dancing, gardening and house cleaning also provide a workout.
3. Seek help for balance problems. Some falls are caused by disorders of the vestibular system, located in our inner ear, which is important for our sense of balance. These disorders are often treatable. There are always ways to improve balance. Have your loved one ask their doctor about a balance class or special exercises and activities, such as tai chi, that improve proprioception—our sense of position. The wrong shoes also can affect our balance and stability, so have them properly fitted.
4. Conduct a fall-prevention home inspection. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recently reminded seniors that it’s a great time to give their homes a safety inspection—because we are likely spending most of our time at home. While visiting a loved one in their home, “look around for hazards and remove clutter that your loved one could trip on,” says Gerber. “Improve lighting throughout the house, and add grab bars in the bathroom and other key areas. And be sure there’s a clear path to walk through the house.”
5. Have their medications reviewed. The drugs we take help us manage health conditions that raise our risk of falls. And yet, either alone or combined with other drugs, many prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can cause dangerous side effects such as dizziness, confusion, and drowsiness. Help your loved one create a list of all the medications they take and instruct them to bring that list to their doctor or pharmacist. Make sure they report any side effects when starting a new drug.
6. Have regular vision and hearing exams. Not surprisingly, vision loss is a top risk factor for falls. In some cases, vision can be improved with eyeglasses. Offer to help your loved one make an appointment with their optometrist to make sure their prescription is up-to-date. If they wear bifocals or progressive lenses, they should consider getting a second pair of glasses with single-vision lenses which might be safer for walking. Gerber notes, “Our ears also provide a lot of important information about the environment around us that can help us avoid falling, so if your loved one has hearing aids, make sure they’re using them daily.”
7. Eat a fall-fighting diet. Getting the right nutrients promotes muscle and bone strength. Eating well also helps us maintain a healthy weight. In addition to working with their doctor to develop an eating plan that’s right for them, offer to cook your loved one meals high in calcium, protein, and vitamin D. Don’t be afraid to ask them about their alcohol intake as drinking to excess can increase fall risk.
8. Use walking aids properly. Canes, walkers, and other mobility devices help many older adults maintain their stability and avoid falls while walking. However, it’s important to use these devices correctly. A physical therapist or other professional can recommend an appropriate device, make sure it is properly fitted, and train your loved one in its safe use.
9. Avoid distracted walking. Many falls happen when people aren’t fully aware of their surroundings. Gerber shares this observation about distractions: “Today, the main culprit might be your smartphone. There’s a stereotype of a young person walking along while texting, even in intersections. But experts tell us older adults are doing it, too! Even talking on the phone while walking can distract us. Stop to make that call, or wait until later.” Notice how your loved one uses their smartphone, and encourage them to limit their use while they’re on the move.
10. Add home care to your fall prevention strategy. For many families, hiring professional in-home care is a way to achieve the above goals. Home care aides assist in removing clutter, supervising exercise, providing transportation to healthcare appointments, picking up prescriptions, and providing appropriate care for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory loss.
Today many fall prevention classes and activities are taking place via videoconferencing. Caregivers can help with that, too. “Seniors who might hesitate to be active gain an extra measure of confidence when a professional or family caregiver is at hand—a great way to break the cycle of falls and fear,” says Gerber.
Read more: This fall prevention guide helps you assess an aging parent’s home for fall risks and advises on changes you can make to reduce risk. Download Right at Home’s fall prevention guide here.
About Right at Home
Founded in 1995, Right at Home offers in-home companionship and personal care to seniors and adults with disabilities who want to continue to live independently. Most Right at Home offices are independently owned and operated and directly employ and supervise all caregiving staff, each of whom is thoroughly screened, trained, and bonded/insured prior to entering a client’s home. Right at Home’s global office is based in Omaha, Nebraska, with more than 500 franchise locations in the U.S. and seven other countries. For more information on Right at Home, visit www.rightathome.net.
About Right at Home - North Suburban Chicago
The Lincolnshire office of Right at Home is a locally owned and operated franchise office of Right at Home, LLC, serving the communities of North Suburban Chicago. For more information, contact www.RightAtHomeNSC.com or by email at email@example.com.
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