If your aging parent has had a bad fall, the whole family will be on edge afterward. Falling is traumatic, and while the person who fell will be shaken at the very least – and recovering from injuries, worst case – you’ll be wondering: What can I do to keep this from happening again?
Every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), millions of adults age 65 and older experience a fall:
· 1 out of 4 older adults report falling
· 1 out of 5 falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury
· 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments each year for fall injuries
· More than 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture
· Medical costs related to non-fatal falls are more than $50 billion a year
While falls are the most common reason for injuries among seniors, falling isn’t a “natural” or normal part of aging. Falls can be prevented.
The first thing you can do for your aging parents is to make sure their home is safe from slips and falls.
A certified occupational therapist (O.T.) can come to your parent’s home to conduct an “assessment”– an evaluation of how well your parent functions in their physical space, including an interpretation of the safety of their home.
Rachel Seltzer, OTR/L, Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), is the in-house occupational therapist at Ruby. She has conducted hundreds of home assessments with senior clients. Seltzer says that when she meets a client, she has a conversation first to find out where in their home they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Then she walks them through the home while observing their movements as well as looking around for potential risks to their safety.
Some high risks areas for falls in the home (and the reasons why) are:
· Bathtubs (climbing in and out)
· Showers (slip and falls)
· Kitchens (over-stretching or climbing to reach items)
· Stairways (tripping “up” or falling down)
· Scatter rugs, electrical cords, and other trip hazards
· Dark entranceways, stairways, etc. (older eyes need more light to see well)
Your parent’s O.T. will recommend modifications to the home to help protect against falls and help your parent feel safe. Then you and your parent can find a contractor with expertise in aging-in-place to implement those modifications.
As an example of how the home modifications process works, Seltzer tells the story of an elderly client who had been hiding her falls from the family – until she injured herself in the bathroom and had to call her grown daughter to help.
They hired Seltzer to perform a home assessment, and she discovered that the client was unable to step in and out of her bathtub safely. Seltzer recommended installing safety grab bars at several intervals in the bathroom and inside the tub/shower area. She shopped online with her client, who chose the grab bars she wanted. Then the client and her daughter hired a contractor to secure the bars where Seltzer had marked the walls, in the correct positioning for the client.
After installation, Seltzer came back to walk her client through practicing using the bars to steady herself, until the client felt comfortable and safe.
Your parent may be a little resistant to changes in their home at first – that’s normal.
Seltzer says, “There can be a stigma to appearing old or infirm. I’ve known clients who start out saying, ‘You aren’t going to put bars in my house!’ The lovely thing about universal design today is that there are wonderful products that blend right into the home and are ‘invisible,’ as we say – no one notices that they are safety devices.”
“At Ruby,” Seltzer adds, “We eliminate that extra step and extra time spent in seeking out and hiring a contractor. Our CAPS certified contractors are very experienced with implementing home modifications.”
Fear after a fall is very real for older adults. It can radiate outward from the trauma of injury to fear of going out, hesitancy to pursue favorite activities, and worry about maintaining independence.
Talk openly with your parent about fall risks and prevention. Remind them that the two of you can work together to prevent falls and ask what you can do for them (rather than telling them what to do). You want to empower your senior parent to be in control, which will increase their confidence and decrease their fear of falling.
Seltzer says that when looking at fall prevention, it’s important to get to the heart of the problem of why someone is falling.
“There are medical conditions and drug side effects that can cause dizziness or affect balance, which can lead to falls,” Seltzer says. “Or someone may need strengthening exercises or physical therapy. Even something as simple as getting new eyeglasses can help! There’s a whole list of preventable reasons for older people falling. You should check out those things first with your parent’s healthcare providers, before worrying that something is seriously wrong.”
To learn more about fall prevention, download the CDC brochure, Family Caregivers: Protect Your Loved Ones from Falling.
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