“Have you fallen lately?” If you're over 65 or if you go to the doctor with an older person, you've probably heard this question. That's because in the medical field there's a growing recognition of the seriousness of falls, especially for senior citizens.
Here are a few facts and figures that support this concern:
· Falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-related death in those over 65.
· About one-third of senior citizens fall every year.
· Those who fall once are at risk of falling again.
If you help to care for someone over 65, preventing falls should be high on your to-do list, but checking it off isn't a simple process. Basically, it takes a three-pronged approach to reduce falls. First, the elderly must have regular medical evaluations. Second, hazards in the living environment should be reduced as much as possible. Third, the elderly should be encouraged to keep moving.
Schedule Regular Checkups
If the person you care for falls, it's a good idea to call the doctor and take your charge in for a complete evaluation. Many medical conditions, ranging from ear infections to low blood pressure, can cause falls. The elderly are especially at risk of urinary tract infections and dehydration, and both of these can trigger weakness that can lead to falls.
The doctor may want to evaluate medications at the same time. Many medications can cause dizziness. Older individuals metabolize medications differently from the young, and dosages may need to be adjusted. For those taking multiple medications, drug interactions are always a concern.
Vision problems can also lead to falling. A person who can't see a tripping hazard can't avoid it. Senior citizens should get regular eye exams, even if they don't complain about their vision. Elderly people are more at risk for conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. In addition, the lens becomes less flexible with age, which leads to poorer vision.
Clear the Environment
Older individuals often draw great comfort from having their things around them, but too many things can be a problem. Seniors function best in a uncluttered environment. Everyone knows that loose rugs can be a hazard for seniors, but we don't always consider the coffee table, magazine rack, plant stand or coat rack that is right in a traffic pattern. Night lights or motion-activated lights will help prevent nighttime falls.
Most Americans live in what one gerontologist calls “Peter Pan housing” – housing designed for people who will never get old. Steps or stairs without handrails, slippery flooring materials, showers without grab bars, toilets that are too low – these are all major challenges for older people and should be remedied whenever possible.
Help Seniors Maintain Fitness
The third piece of the puzzle and the one that is most often overlooked is maintaining physical fitness. Sometimes we want to put elderly people in a chair and keep them there, to keep them from falling. In reality that is the opposite of what most of them need. “Use it or lose it” applies to those of all ages.
Most older people would benefit from regular physical therapy, but that's not practical or affordable for most. Still, there are many exercises that can be done without the help of a physical therapist, from pointing and flexing the feet to squeezing a ball with the hands. Researchers have found – and common sense tells us – that the reason seniors fall more than younger people isn't because they slip more. It's because they are less able to recover from a wobble without falling. Keeping from falling is a function of the whole body, so exercises that strengthen the whole body are appropriate.
Of course, you can't be good at something that you never do, so you'll also need to get your patient up and walking if at all possible. Walking with a cane or walker is better than not walking at all.
One More Thing
It's possible that we can do one more thing with the elderly that could lead to fewer falls. We can give them Vitamin D. Scientists aren't sure exactly why, but one survey of nine studies found that a daily dose of Vitamin D reduced the incidence of falls by 17%. Doctors believe that the vitamin improves balance and muscular strength. The recommended dosage is 800 IU.
If you are in the Fairfield, Connecticut, area and need help arranging home health care for a loved one, call Turtledove Home Care at (203) 255-1211 or visit us on the web at http://turtledovehomecare.com/.
· “Falls Are Leading Cause of Injury and Death in Older Americans.” 22 Sept. 2016. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0922-older-adult-falls.html
· Kernisan, Leslie, MD MPH. “Eight Things to Have the Doctor Check After an Aging Person Falls.” Better Health While Aging. https://betterhealthwhileaging.net/8-things-to-check-after-fall-in-aging/.
· Seliger, Susan. “Scientists Weigh in on Fall Prevention.” The New York Times. 12 July 2012. https://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/12/scientists-weigh-in-on-fall-prevention/.