During a business meeting my colleague received one of those dreaded phone calls: his Dad had been rushed to the hospital.
When your parent is in his 80s, it is the type of phone call that you can expect. But the reason his Dad had to go to the hospital is also common. He had fallen and broken a hip. He had lost his balance while trying to tie his shoes and the result was an ambulance trip to the hospital and hip surgery. Not ideal for someone in their 80s.
Chronic conditions like diabetes or arthritis or the effects of a stroke can increase the risk of falling. They impact your mom’s or dad’s ability to walk and can lead to inactivity. Inactivity increases the likelihood that a fall will happen.
To assess the risk of a fall, look at these four areas:
Balance and Gait
Balance and gait are important aspects of your mom’s or dad’s mobility. Balance can be improved through exercise.
Improving strength in the torso and upper legs can have a significant impact on balance. Maintaining coordination through walking and improving flexibility through stretching are also important for balance and gait.
Exercise — walking, strength training, and stretching — will greatly improve your mom’s or dad’s balance and gait. Strength training doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym. There are a lot of isometric exercises that they can do to maintain muscle mass.
Also: make sure their shoes support their feet well and are easy to get on and off.
Consider walking aids, like walkers or canes, to help them keep balanced. A friend of mine improved her strength and walking stamina by using a walker and walking greater distances — even though she was in her late 80s. Don’t discount walking aids.
As your mom or dad ages their ability to see contrasting edges, like where the carpet ends and the floor begins or the edges of stairs, will diminish. This can greatly increase their risk of tripping.
Pay attention to these areas and make the contrasts greater or remove the hazard. For example: the area carpet may just have to go. A one-time decorative accent may now be a dangerous tripping hazard.
Medications or Dehydration
Some prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can cause dizziness or disorientation. And that can lead to a fall.
Dehydration can also be a culprit. Since seniors tend to lose their thirst trigger, it is easy for them to become dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to confusion and falls — so make sure they have plenty to drink.
Your mom or dad has likely lived in their current home for a long time. An environment that was safe at 60 may no longer be safe at 75. Take a good look around their home and identify ways to make it safer.
For example: increase lighting throughout the house. This is especially important at the top and bottom of stairs. As well, make sure there is lighting that is easy to access when they get up in the middle of the night.
Secure handrails around stairs, tubs and showers can also protect against falls. A shower chair and a hand-held shower head can go a long way to making the shower a safe place.
Take the time to think about these four areas and help your mom or dad avoid a fall with long-term implications for their health.
Do you need help in the area of Dementia Care? Check out this available resource: Fit Minds Family Caregiver Program