My friend Jim showed up for our weekly tennis match covered in bandages and a knee brace. He had quite a story to share. He’s in his early 70s and other than this one incident is the picture of perfect health. He had gotten up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water in the bathroom, something he does almost every night. Except this night instead of turning right to go back into his bedroom, for reasons he still doesn’t understand, he turned left falling down several flights of stairs. He recalled the tumbling sensation, the wet dampness coming from his head, and the fear of what was about to come. Needless to say, he was shaken up.
His wife on the other hand nearly had a heart attack jumping out of bed screaming for Jim, watching as he helplessly fell all the way down. He laughed after saying she needed the ambulance more than he did. Opting out of an ambulance, they drove to the hospital where after many tests and x-rays, Jim was spared broken bones. He left the Emergency Room (ER) with just a few cuts, a pretty good bang to the head which caused a nose bleed, and bruising. Jim said the doctor told him point blank had he not been taking care of himself, being proactive with his health, this would have had a much different outcome and most definitely a multi-day hospital stay.
I think about my own older parents, I usually do when I share these stories. How many times have they fallen and I don’t know about it? Maybe they haven’t but as they get older, I certainly want to help prevent any injuries. What I’ve heard from friends who’ve experienced similar scenarios, that one giant fall is usually not the only one. It’s just the one they told you about because it involved a hospitalization or ER visit. It’s funny how they tend to keep those smaller, ‘no big deal’ falls to themselves.
The scary truth, every 11 seconds an older adult is in the ER for a fall and every 19 minutes, a senior dies from a fall. Those are real statistics from the National Council on Aging. Those ‘little’ falls end up resulting in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in the ER for seniors. Many of these falls can be prevented.
Jim, while he unknowingly turned left instead of right, later realized he had taken cold medicine which made him groggy and he slipped on a throw rug. Could simple adjustments prevent his fall? We’ll never know for him but for many seniors who end up in the hospital, a few home modifications, better medication management, and other tips by nurses and caregivers who have extensive experience in people’s homes, can do the trick to help seniors prevent falls and remain independent longer.
Why is prevention important? For one thing, avoiding hospitalizations and ER visits saves money. But an overlooked side effect of falls is social isolation which is a health risk. If seniors have experienced even one fall, they often fear another one could permanently jeopardize their independence and ability to age in place. Their solution, stay home and disengage from activities they love, hoping that will prevent a fall. But this is counterproductive and leads to more health risks.
How can I help my loved ones prevent falls? What I discovered is that there are many strategies trusted experts have used with their senior care clients and families to help them age in place, safely. Here are a few to get you started:
- Medications – Getting support managing medications is a top prevention method for preventing falls. Take inventory of all prescription, over-the-counter medications, and supplements and make a list to share with your loved one’s doctor. When multiple doctors are involved in one person’s care it’s easy to get confused on when/how to take prescribed medications, or if there are interactions that might make your parent dizzy or weak. Regularly reviewing medications is a service Homespire Life Care Managers (LCMs) provide for clients, but you may also get it from a pharmacist.
- Have they fallen before? A pattern of recent falls is an indication of the need for additional support. What are the signs? Download a copy of the signs to look for. Ask about falls and write down the details of any that have occurred and when they happened to uncover any patterns. Create an environment where your parents feel comfortable talking about falls and other issues.
- Get physical – Homepspire LCMs encourage proactive strength building to help prevent falls. Connect to resources that can help now (even if your parents haven’t experienced a fall) with exercise, strength, or balancing programs.
- The right accessory – shoes! Something as simple as changing shoes can have a dramatic impact on falls. The wrong kind of shoes may cause them to slip, stick to the floor, or hurt their ankles – all contributing to a potential fall.
The best advice Jim’s doctor gave him was to get a home safety check.
Homespire LCMs provide these as part of their in-home care service, evaluating seniors’ homes for fall hazards. It’s an easy way to prevent falls and maintain independence longer.
Reach out to Homespire to help you strategize the best options for preventing or recuperating from a fall. And learn what you can do now to improve your loved one’s strength and wellness so that if a fall does occur, as it did for Jim, your loved one will be able to recuperate better because they were proactive with their health. That one fall was enough to spring Jim and his wife into action – he now keeps a glass of water by his bed and that rug is replaced by a non-slip mat.
What else can you do? Download the subtle signs to look for and reach out to Homespire for additional support.