Six steps to reduce risk of falling

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Six steps to reduce risk of falling

I do know how . . . to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day.  Tell me, what else should I have done?  Doesn’t everyone die at last, and too soon?  Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  —Mary Oliver, American Poet, in House of Light.

            May is Older Americans Month.  That’s why we were over at the Bowie Senior Center last Friday helping seniors execute Health Care Powers of Attorney at no charge.  If you need this service, please note that the Maryland State Bar Association sends attorneys to area senior centers each year on the first of May for this purpose.  Just remember to reserve a spot when sign ups start next year. 

The NCOA (National Council on Aging) is celebrating Older Americans Month by emphasizing prevention of life-threatening falls.  The emphasis is on how family members and the community can work together to reduce the number of falls that injure seniors, which are the  leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65 and older.

Interestingly, NCOA insists that falls are not a normal part of aging, and that they can be prevented through a combination of interventions.  If you have an aging parent, grandparent or neighbor in your life, helping them reduce their risk of falling is a great way to help them stay healthy and independent as long as possible.  Here, courtesy of NCOA are six easy steps you can take today to help your older loved one reduce their risk of a fall:

First of all, enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe. “Enlisting their support” sounds pretty easy, and nobody knows better than me that it’s sometimes not easy as all.  So think about how you can gain their support before you start.

Ask your older loved one if they’re concerned about falling.  Many older adults recognize that falling is a risk, but they believe it won’t happen to them or they won’t get hurt – even if they’ve already fallen in the past.  My own mother, who experienced multiple falls, always insisted “I can do that.  I won’t fall.”  However, if your older loved one is afraid or concerned about falling, dizziness or balance, suggest that they discuss it with their health care provider who can assess their risk and suggest programs or services that could help.

Discuss your loved one’s current health conditions.  Find out if they are experiencing any problems with managing their own health.  Are they having trouble remembering to take their medications?  Are they experiencing side effects?  Is it getting more difficult for them to do things they used to do easily?

Also, make sure they’re taking advantage of all the preventive health benefits now offered under Medicare.  For instance, they should be going for their annual wellness check visit with their doctor.  Encourage them to speak openly with their health care provider about all of their concerns.

Ask about their last eye checkup.  If your older loved one wears glasses, make sure they have a current prescription and they’re using the glasses as advised by their eye doctor.  Tint-changing lenses can be hazardous when going from bright sun into darkened buildings and homes.  A simple strategy is to change glasses inside, or just to stop walking until the lenses adjust to the inside light. Bifocals can be problematic on stairs, so it’s important to be cautious.  For those already struggling with low vision, urge them to see a low-vision specialist for ways to make the most of their eyesight.

Notice if your older loved one is holding onto walls, furniture or someone else when walking, or if they appear to have difficulty walking or arising from a chair.  These are all signs that it might be time to see a physical therapist.  A trained physical therapist can help your older loved one improve their balance, strength and gait through exercise.  The therapist might also suggest a cane or walker and provide guidance on how to use these aids.  Make sure to help your loved one follow their advice,  as poorly fitted aids can actually increase the risk of falling.

Have a talk about your loved one’s medications.  If your older loved one is having a hard time keeping track of medicines or is experiencing side effects, encourage them to discuss their concerns with their doctor and pharmacist.  Suggest that they have their medications reviewed each time they get a new prescription.  Important:  Beware of non-prescription medications that contain sleep aids, including painkillers with “PM” in their names.  These medicines can lead to balance issues and dizziness.  Ask them to talk with their doctor about safer alternatives.

Lastly, do a walk-through safety assessment of their home.  There are many simple and inexpensive ways to make a home safer.  An example is to increase lighting throughout the house, especially at the top and bottom of stairs.  Ensure that some lighting is available for getting up in the middle of the night.  Makes sure there are two secure rails on all stairs.  Install grab bars in the tub/shower and near the toilet.  Make sure they’re installed where your loved one can actually use them.  For even greater safety, consider the use of a shower chair and a hand-held nozzle.

Geriatric Care Managers and occupational therapists can also do home safety assessments.  In addition, “Home fall prevention checklist” and the CDC checklist will be among the first choices.  The actual web address was too long and complicated to replicate here.

Thank you for reading.  Stay well.  See you next week.  Don’t fall

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