Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in elderly Americans. Both for the senior and their family, a fall can be a disturbing experience. As well as the obvious medical implications, like broken bones or sprains, a fall can cause emotional issues. The National Institute on Aging warns that the fear of further falls can lead to seniors becoming less active and more isolated, which can, in turn, lead to additional issues like depression. And if your senior is worried or upset, the chances are you as a carer will be too.
Although the CDC says more than one in four seniors will fall each year, with 2.8 million emergency room visits as a result, it’s important to remember that falls are not inevitable. If you are aware of the common causes of falls, you can plan to help your senior avoid them. Now is the time to learn about prevention even if your senior hasn’t had a fall: If your senior falls once, their risk of falling doubles.
Professional caregivers advise that four major factorsthat cause falls: muscle atrophy, dehydration and nutrition, multiple medications and clutter. There are mitigating factors for each, which can help your senior and you avoid what can be a harrowing experience. Consulting a reputable home care provider could help identify any particular factors that may increase your senior’s risk of falling, and they may be able to give you ideas on how best to mitigate them.
As a loved one gets older, his or her muscles get weaker. Nobody expects to be as strong at 65 as they were at 35, but muscle atrophy can be a significant factor in elderly falls. Keeping active can help. Planning an exercise program - a gentle exercise such as Tai Chi should be suitable for most seniors. As well as making your senior stronger, exercise can help to keep their joints and tendons flexible, which will help them to stay limber and ease their daily movement. Simple everyday activities like walking, in or out of the home, will also help to keep your loved one fit and healthy.
Dehydration can cause many side effects, which can in turn cause falls. As we age, our bodies don't retain water well. Dehydration can produce low blood pressure, but also has other symptoms like dizziness, confusion and loss of balance, all of which could leave your senior at risk. Ensuring your senior knows these risks and stays hydrated can help he or she be steadier on their feet. Ensuring your loved one eats well can help too. Seniors may naturally lose their appetite as they get older, or they may eat less because of other issues such as trouble chewing or a dislike of eating alone. Problems caused by malnutrition can include light-headedness, muscle weakness and slow healing after injuries, all of which can make your loved one more susceptible to a fall. You can help by planning healthy meals.
A professional caregiver could help your senior with cooking and also provide companionship at meal times. It may seem obvious, but excessive alcohol consumption could be a factor in falls, so moderation is a must. Another important cause of falls is vitamin D deficiency, so ask a doctor if taking supplements may help.
Understanding the side effects of any medication is essential. Tranquilizers, sedatives or antidepressants will make anyone woozy, but even over-the-counter medications can have side effects including dizziness, loss of balance or tiredness, which could make your loved one less steady. Seniors can be even more at risk from medicinal side effects since they are more likely to take multiple medications. The American Public Health Association says that people aged 65 and over make up 12 percent of the population, but account for 34 percent of prescriptions issued and 30 percent of over-the-counter drugs taken. Harvard University warns that medications can interact with each other and cause harmful side effects.
Taking multiple medications also makes it harder to discover which drug is causing a side effect. Be aware of everything that your senior is taking, including over-the-counter medicines. Keep an up-to-date list of everything Mom takes – including herbal supplements – the frequency at which she takes them and the dosage. Consult a doctor if you have concerns and talk to a pharmacist when a new medication is prescribed to confirm whether it may react with something your loved one already takes. A professional caregiver by your loved one's side when they take medication can ensure that he or she is taking what the proper medicine at the appropriate time and the correct dosage.
Fall-proofing your loved one’s home is an essential step to preventing falls—around 55 percent of senior falls happen in the home, and another 23 percent happen close to it. People of any age can trip around the house, but seniors may have poorer eyesight and lessened mobility, so they're more at risk from falls caused by clutter. Keep floors clean and tidy. It's important to remember that clutter may not only be related to an untidy house: The CDC identifies rugs and carpets as a hazard, so make sure carpets are correctly attached and remove rugs that could cause slips and trips. Make sure everything is in good condition; a broken or uneven step could be deadly. Wet floors and icy paths are also dangerous, so try to make sure that floors are dry and that salt or sand is on hand to deal with ice outdoors.
Remember that sensible shoes can also save lives! Nonskid, rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes provide traction and help your loved one to stay on his or her feet. Proper home care service providers offer services to fall-proof your senior’s home, and could also come regularly to help with housework and ensure that all floors remain safe and clutter-free.
Know what causes seniors to fall and work to mitigate any factors that you believe may leave your loved one at increased risk. Make a plan for how to fall-proof his or her home. Consider if a professional caregiver could be a helpful resource for you and your loved one in preventing falls.
And if your loved one has already fallen once, click here for vital information.
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