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Senior adults in a stretching class

Dad Diaries: Six Falls and Counting! Four Ways to Prevent the Next One

Today ends Fall Prevention Week; an annual awareness effort to highlight the devastating effects of falls in seniors and to spread prevention tips that really work.

Luckily for me, my dad confesses when he’s had a fall before I find out some other way (a new bruise or scab on his knee, something in disarray on the floor, or someone alerting me). That’s really great considering that I’ve heard numerous times from elders that they lie to their adult children and caregivers when they’ve had a fall.

I’ve also heard from quite a few healthcare or rehabilitation professionals that falls ARE going to happen. It’s inevitable. However, we want to do all that we can to try and prevent the next one (or my dad’s seventh fall – according to his accounting).

Don’t think falls are traumatic and potentially devastating? Think again!

  • Falls are the leading cause of death due to injury among the elderly.
  • 87% of all fractures in the elderly are due to falls.
  • Falls account for 25% of all hospital admissions and 40% of all nursing home admissions
  • 40% of those admitted to the hospital due to a fall do not return to independent living
  • 25% of elderly, who were admitted to the hospital due to a fall, die within a year

The CDC offers several simple and helpful resources and includes these four areas to focus on:

Improve balance and strength – Lack of exercise leads to weakness and increases your chances of falling. Even though my dad is quite strong, he does fear falls because of his balance. I schedule time each day to encourage him to walk with his walker and my minimum assistance.

One example of an area of strength is hand strength. One study revealed that for every 11-pound decline in grip strength, there was a one in six increased risk of death from any cause. Plus, hand strength can be a predictor of avoiding falls because of the ability to grab stationery objects.

Review your medications – Because so many medications can cause one to become dizzy, it’s important to understand if any of your medicines might affect your balance or increase your risk of falls.

Have your vision checked –  Your vision has a major impact on how you perceive space, balance, and tripping hazards. My dad had a midbrain palsy of the left eye from his stroke and his eyesight is a major challenge. It contributes to his risk of falls so we scheduled to get more expert input on his vision and prognosis. I try to ask him questions to understand how and what he sees so that I can accommodate his vision needs when helping him down the stairs or walking.

Make your home safer – It goes without saying that a cluttered floor, steps or walking path is a recipe for disaster, but, beyond the obvious, it’s helpful to see the walking path from the perspective of the patient. What kind of shoes are they wearing? Even though my dad used to like to wear slippers, I got him sturdy and secure shoes that don’t have laces to get in the way and give him ample support. What surface are they walking on? My dad has a walker and it works very differently if on carpet or hard wood floors. It’s important to practice walking with support on the variety of surfaces you will typically encounter.

Other issues like proper lighting have immense impact on one’s fall risk. How does the light change through the day and at night? Are there ample lighting sources to ensure safety at all times?

These are just a few ideas to get you started and to view your, or your loved one’s, falling risks in a whole new light. Below are some additional resources that can give you further specific tools, exercises and checklists to address the four areas started here.

The National Council on Aging has a wonderful array of resources that are evidence-based, meaning that they have real research behind how well they work. These programs are perfect for a senior center class, an assisted living facility, through a church eldercare program, or for doing with your parents or grandparents.

CDCs STEADI program has many resources on fall prevention for older adults.

Philips Lifeline has a very nice web site with easy-to-follow tips.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has a handy list of specific areas to check in the living space for fall risks.

What are your tips for helping a loved one avoid falls? Join Our Community and share your ideas.

About @susanharkema

Susan is the creator of MyHealthVoice.com, built upon her 20+ years in healthcare and her experiences as a caregiver and patient. She is a writer, speaker and advocate for people living with chronic or life limiting illness as well as their family and professional caregivers. Learn more - www.myhealthvoice/susanharkema/.

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