Fear of Falling in the Elderly
Is your elderly loved one afraid of falling? Is this an unfounded fear? If you look at the numbers, you will find that falls are quite prevalent in older populations and often have serious consequences. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 2.8 million older Americans are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries each year and that doesn’t count unreported falls. The consequences of falling can be quite severe, 95% of hip fractures in the elderly are caused by falls not to mention that the most common cause of traumatic brain injury is, you guessed it, falling down.
Besides the obvious physical injuries that a fall can cause, the fear of falling can cause other problems such as depression and a decline in physical fitness which leads to further weakness causing an even greater chance of falling. This is a cycle worth ending.
So what can you do to help your loved one get over the fear of falling while keeping them safe? The first thing is to open up communication on the subject making sure that you validate their fear of getting hurt and their frustration in not being able to do what once came easy for them. Next encourage them to do all they can to improve their physical condition and take steps to insure an environment free from fall hazards.
Senior Physical Fitness Check
Vision - keep up with your eye exams, consider a pair of walking glasses that don’t have bifocals, get treatment if you have glaucoma or cataracts.
Medication Check - does any of your mediations cause dizziness or impair your ability to react? If so ask your doctor for alternatives or suggestions in managing these medications with your fall risk.
Balance - there are simple exercises to help build up your balance like standing on one foot for 10 seconds at a time while holding the countertop. If you are able, a tai chi or yoga class can be very beneficial to your improving your balance.
Bone Density - ask your doctor if you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D, supplements may be needed. Your doctor may recommend estrogen replacement (for some women) or bone building medications. Plus, you can add some weight bearing exercises to your exercise program to build up your bones.
Keep Seniors Safe at Home
Remove anything that can be tripped over including clutter, throw rugs, and cords.
Install hand rails near bathtubs and beds and add railings to both sides of stairs.
Check for poor footwear; makes sure shoes are nonslip and fit well.
Fix poorly lit areas with brighter bulbs or additional light fixtures.
There are many resources on this subject including this helpful one from the CDC. It is a program called STEADI (Stop Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries). Among the many resources offered here you can download their “Check for Safety” brochure which gives you a comprehensive check list that you can use when making your loved one’s environment safer.
It may take some extra time and effort but after taking some precautions and following up with their doctor you can help your loved one feel more safe and confident in their own environment. And who knows, you may be helping them to stay home where most people are more comfortable and tend to thrive better.