As I continue my discussion about falls, I thought I might provide a little comic relief to share my most embarrassing fall. Picture this. It’s my little girl’s dance recital dress rehearsal. Mamas, Grandmas, and some Dads are all up in arms trying to make sure they have their little Susie’s right shoes with the right costume and heaven knows we must have on ENOUGH makeup to be “stage appropriate” too. Well amongst all this chaos we had a routine (or at least a performer) that was about to be cut because one of our senior level dancers was sick and was not able to partner with the junior performer for this cute little number. Well as they say “the show must go on” and our ever improvising and quick thinking director called out from the curtain…” Is Heather Bradley in the building”? SAY WHAT?? Oh dear woman, you do jest. Nope, she was quite serious. And within moments this child with big crocodile tears that was about to have to sit out was being twirled and tossed by yours truly. So I fell on my face on the stage during the routine right? No…wait for it. We got through the routine and I was feeling pretty good for a washed up former tap dancer. So as I slipped back into my wedges and started bounding down the stairs…it happened. I fell down the steps with such graceless effort that I literally fell flat on my face. Well, I fell on my hands to be more specific. My friend Renee said I jumped back up so quickly though that I looked like a cartoon character. So as I jump up to quickly assure everyone that I am truly okay, I make a discovery. My shoe is broken, my watch is broken and I soon discover at the ER (where my friend Sam insisted I get checked out when she sees blood coming from my wrist) that my hand is also quite broken. So when I speak to you about falls, trust me I am a professional. It takes a pro to fall off a stage in front of an auditorium packed full of people.
So the shoe. Let me tell you it was the source of the fall. So when I tell you that ill-fitting shoes can be a hazard, I know from first-hand experience. Now granted most elderly adults are not bounding down the steps of a stage. But if your shoes don’t fit properly you can be stepping off a curb or standing up for that matter and the shoes can become a fall hazard. Another important thing to consider is foot care. Many seniors don’t have the ability to trim their toenails anymore. Throw in the fact that many are diabetic and this adds additional risk and you can see how toenails can wreak havoc and up the ante in the fight against falls. Foot pain and poor footwear have been cited by the Center for Disease Control as one of the major contributing factors for falls in the elderly. So be sure that you check your loved ones’ shoes and make sure that they fit well and are in good condition. Also, check their toenails and see that they are trimmed regularly by someone that knows what they are doing and especially if they are diabetic. Regular checkups are important, right? It is equally important to get your feet checked out too!
Be an advocate if Mom’s feet have been missed in the examination. Most physicians include this in a comprehensive check. But believe me, I have seen it be missed. Don’t be afraid to speak up and make sure that foot health is a consideration. While my middle aged broken hand healed up nicely after my fall, a fall for a senior can be much more devastating because as we age we become more frail. Taking proper precautions can help your loved one from being one of the 2.8 million older Americans that is treated in the ER annually for falls. So be smart and evaluate these issues and it will help everyone keep one foot safely in front of the other.
Before I began working in the senior living industry the word FALL didn’t strike fear into my heart. No on the contrary it would spark images of leaves turning to brilliant hues of gold and crimson and the sound of them crunching under our feet as me and the neighborhood children would play flag football in the yard. It would spark memories of the delicious smells of the season from my favorite pumpkin spice candles to Mom’s homemade chili brewing on the stove. Ah yes, the innocence and tranquility of it all. But I digress. And who am I kidding that football usually turned into an all-out brawl anyway. But seriously FALLS as we know them and how they relate to our seniors are a very big deal!
By the numbers…
- According to the CDC “each year, millions of older people—those 65 and older—fall. In fact, more than one out of four older people falls each year, but less than half tell their doctor. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again.” The CDC also reports that “adjusted for inflation, the direct medical costs for fall injuries are $31 billion annually. Hospital costs account for two-thirds of the total.”
It is imperative that we take measures to try and help prevent falls if at all possible. Sure this seems very idealistic! But it is also helpful if we take a practical approach. You may not can prevent all falls. But you can take appropriate measures to keep someone safe. So where do you start? This is an important question no matter where you live. Today we will start with the first thing you can do.
Keep your area safe…
I remember a friend from church once asked me to come over and look at their parents’ home and see if anything jumped out at me as to why their parent kept falling. Walk with me if you will….we start up the concrete steps to the home that has no handrail. This takes us to the kitchen where a cute blind dog nips at your knees. We cross down to the living area that is situated on the split level property across from the bathroom. In the tiny bathroom there is a sliding glass door shower/tub with no handrails and a towel bar that is dangling from the wall. I can’t make this stuff up. Did I mention that the home was also poorly lit? I really couldn’t see why they needed my help discerning the safety issues within this home. The entire place was a hotbed for concussions and broken hips! So always ASSESS your FALL RISKS within your living space.
Key things to pay attention to include:
Clutter-get rid of it! Make sure you don’t have junk making an obstacle course for you to maneuver around.
Lighting-make sure you can see! Also make use of nightlights. What you CAN’T see CAN hurt you.
And also watch for HOME HAZARDS such as:
- broken or uneven steps,
- throw rugs or clutter that can be tripped over, and
- no handrails along stairs or in the bathroom.
There are absolutely multiple risk factors and reasons for falls to occur. But if you do your best to make sure your space (or your loved one’s space) is as safe as possible, you are increasing your odds of NOT becoming a statistic in the fight against FALLS.
As the adult child of a senior parent, we live in fear of the day we get that phone call telling us that something has happened to one of our parents. Sometimes it’s a medical emergency, but most of the time it’s that our parent has fallen. Falls occur in one out of every 3 adults over the age of 65. Each year, more than 1.6 million senior adults go to the emergency department for fall related injuries. Among older adults, falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence, and injury deaths.
Hip fractures are one of the most serious types of fall injury. They are a leading cause of injury and loss of independence, among older adults. Most healthy, independent older adults who are hospitalized for a broken hip are able to return home or live on their own after treatment and rehabilitation. Most of those who cannot return to independent living after such injuries had physical or mental disabilities before the fracture. Many of them will need long-term care.
What can I do to prevent my Mom or Dad from falling and breaking her hip? While falls in senior adults are common, there are things we can do to reduce the risk of falling for our parents.
Do a walk thru at your Mom’s home and ask yourself these questions:
- Are there clear pathways throughout the house?
- If your Mom or Dad uses a walker or a cane, make sure there is enough room to maneuver without tripping or bumping into furniture.
- Are there steps or variations in floor height inside the house?
- Is there adequate light, especially at night when Mom or Dad may get up to go to the bathroom?
- Make sure there are night lights in the bathrooms, hallways and in the bedroom. De-clutter the house. Let’s face it; we all like to hang on to things. Clutter, especially when it makes it difficult to maneuver with a walker or cane, can lead to falls.
If your Mom or Dad has an unsteady gait or has fallen in the past ask her physician if she can get physical therapy to improve her gait and help with endurance. Medicare and most insurance cover the cost of physical therapy and it can even be provided in the home if necessary. Ask your Mom’s physician to check her Vitamin D level. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to falls in senior adults and if the level is low, ask about a Vitamin D supplement.
Remember, falls can be serious and often have other serious consequences or complication down the road. But you can be pro-active now and take the necessary steps to prevent fall risks today.
Each year, one in every three adults ages 65 or older falls and 2 million are treated in emergency departments for fall-related injuries. With each decade of life, the risk of falling increases. Hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries, some of the long term consequences of falls, can impact independence and health. Today, let’s talk about how to prevent falls and protect our seniors.
Tips to Prevent Falls:
- Exercise – Weak legs due to a lack of exercise increases chances. Tai Chi and other such programs strengthen legs muscles and improves balance.
- Wary of Medicines – Dizziness or Drowsiness can be a side effect of some medicines or combinations of medicines.
- Sharp Vision – Routine eye exams and up to date prescriptions for glasses and contacts ensure that seniors are seeing clearly.
- Remove Hazards at Home – Fifty percent of all falls happen at home. Identifying potential fall hazards and either removing them or changing them can prevent falls.
Home Safety Steps:
- Remove items that might be tripping hazards from pathways and stairs.
- Install Handrails and lights on all staircases
- Apply double sided tape on the underside of small rugs
- Items that are used daily should be kept within reach without the aid of a step-stool.
- Puthand-bars in tubs and showers and next to toilets
- Non-slip mats in showers and tubs
- Always ensure home is well lit inside and out.
- Wear shoes at all times when moving about.
For more information, visit GreatOaksManagement.com. For other tips like these, be sure to visit CDC.gov.