Does your loved one live in fear of a serious fall? The danger is real! One in four older adults report a fall each year — and many are debilitating. The good news is most falls are preventable.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has 4 recommendations for preventing falls:
- Speak up.
Talk to caregivers, health care providers, doctors, and pharmacists about fall prevention.
- Keep moving.
Strong legs and core and good balance can help prevent falls. There are even creative approaches like ballroom dance and yoga.
- Get an annual eye exam.
Poor vision can lead to falls, so it’s important to keep prescriptions up to date.
- Make your home fall-safe.
Remove objects and clutter that get in the way of moving around.
The Importance of Preventing Falls
When a fall occurs, the results can be life-changing. While we all realize the significance of a broken bone that may result from a fall, what we sometimes fail to acknowledge is the broken spirit that may occur after a fall. Many elders who fall never fully regain the confidence in their ability to navigate around their home or near steps. They may experience a fear of falling again that may cause them to limit their activity. They may have a permanent disability—not only from the physical consequences of the fall, but from the emotional consequences as well.
4 Major Risk Areas
Minimizing environmental risk would include things like providing for hand rails near the toilet and tub to make it easier for the individual to get up or get balanced; using non-skid throw rugs, or better yet, no throw rugs at all; keeping pathways to and from the bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen free of clutter.
Reducing age-related risk would include things like accommodating for vision and hearing changes that make it more difficult for the older adult to interpret their environment and to see or hear clearly. Eyeglasses should be of the correct strength, in good repair, and clean. Lighting needs to be increased, but not to the extent that it produces glare. A night light will help reduce the dramatic and often times blinding changes in light when going from a darkened bedroom to a brightly lit bathroom. Hearing aids should be cleaned regularly as wax may accumulate and prevent them from working properly. Hearing aid batteries should be replaced regularly to ensure good function.
Health- Related Risk
Reducing health-related risk requires a good healthcare partner and a motivated patient. Osteoporosis is primarily a disease that affects older women and those who have taken medications known as long-term steroids (often used for the treatment of severe arthritis and asthma). These medications cause bones to become increasingly fragile and break even without trauma.
Older adult women should be screened for osteoporosis to determine the density of their bones and if medication management is required. All older adults should get regular weight bearing exercise and eat a well-balanced diet to maintain their bone health. Older adults need as much calcium as pregnant women (1200 mg/day!) Vitamin D requirements also increase with age (400-600 IU/day) and are essential for healthy bones as well.
As we age, we are at risk of taking many medications for many ailments prescribed by many providers; a situation known as polypharmacy. There is much research and increasing awareness of the potentially hazardous effects of polypharmacy. It is well documented that the more medications an individual takes, the greater their risk of side-effects, drug interactions, and falls.
Certain medications are particularly dangerous. Anti-anxiety medications like Valium, Xanax and Ativan; sleeping pills like Ambien, Restoril, and even Tylenol PM have been implicated in increasing fall risk. Discuss your loved one’s medication regimen with the prescriber and focus on reducing or eliminating those drugs that increase the risk of falling. Should your loved one require extended care somewhere other than home, be sure to ask what their fall reduction program has to offer.
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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