Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"I've Fallen..."

We smirk at the commercial of the older woman calling out for help, but the statistics are sobering. According to the Red Cross, one out of every three persons over the age of 65 sustains an injury through a fall each year. Other sources report that, overall, falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury and death in the United States and the leading cause of injuries. Falls are the leading cause of death for Americans over 65. About 90% of those who fall are aged 65 or older. Two-thirds of those who fall will fall again in six months.

Although we do hear of broken hips or thighs that require hospitalization for the elderly, most falls do not result in serious injury. However, there is often a psychological impact. You know from your own experience that if you fall, you become vigilant, at least for a while, in any similar situation which might cause you to fall again. For the elderly, the psychological impact can be even more dramatic. My mother, in her 60's, slipped and fell on an icy patch while running errands. Bruised shoulder muscles brought her pain for weeks. More restrictive was the way that she began staying home, stating in even the mildest winter weather that she might fall. Staying home made her depressed and fearful, since she was not engaging in activities that she enjoyed and that may have lifted her spirits. Studies show that approximately 25 percent of community-dwelling people aged 75 or over unnecessarily restrict their activities because of a fear of falling.

From these statistics it is easy to see why preventing falls for your parent is the #1 measure you can take to increase your parent's chances of living longer as an independent, active individual. Preventing falls will also relieve you, the caregiver, of unnecessary worry and more care duties. Preventing falls is a good practice not only for your parent but also for you, so that you can care without the burden of injury. Since the majority of falls happen at home, many can be prevented.

There are five major factors that contribute to falls:

· Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a condition wherein bones become more porous, less resistant to stress, and more prone to fractures. It is a decrease in bone density which contributes to falls and resultant injuries. In some cases, a bone breaks spontaneously, causing the fall; in others, the fall comes first with breakage as a result.

· Lack of Physical Activity
Physical activity helps muscle tone, bone strength, and balance. All of these physical capabilities are needed to stay upright on unsteady ground, walking up or down stairs, and dressing.

· Impaired Vision
Medications, aging, and illness can all contribute to changing vision. Less visual acuity means that we miss obstacles and may feel less balanced.

· Medications
Dizziness, drowsiness, and decreased alertness are side effects of some medication and all can contribute to falls. Be particularly aware when a new medication is added to what is already prescribed. Often a combination of medications will cause a problem when taking only one drug will not.

· Environmental Hazards
These hazards include icy sidewalks, wires lying across a floor, slippery tubs, throw rugs, and pets. Inside or outside the house, anything that hinders walking or contributes to uneven or unsteady floors can be a cause of a fall.

Begin this week to become more observant of your parent's environment, perhaps to ask more questions. Has your parent been tested for osteoporosis? What are the side effects of her medication? When you visit, look out for potential hazards in the home that could easily be fixed. Can your parent see clearly?

Make your preliminary list and on Thursday, I'll share things you and your parent can do in each hazard area to prevent falls, and provide a few resources to read more.

Until then, be safe!

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