TMH Living Well: Preventing falls this winter with elderly adults
November 29, 2013
It's hard to imagine that the cute throw rug Aunt Elizabeth bought for her back porch could bring her harm. Yet it's just the thing that might cause her to slip and fall. Falls are a major health risk and a leading cause of disability in people older than 50. If you have an elderly relative, prevent falls by making simple changes in the home and in your loved ones’ health habits.
Fall-proofing the home
A common area where falls happen at home is in the bathroom with its wet, slippery surfaces. Does your elderly relative have grab bars in her shower? How about a nonslip surface in the shower and tub? Install a nonslip mat that really sticks to the surface rather than a simple rubber mat that might shift around under her feet. And if she's got a loose rug by her sink, replace that, as well.
Clutter, loose cords and low lighting also are villains when it comes to falls. Run electric cords for lamps along the edge of the wall and remove them from under rugs where they create an unsteady surface. Add extra lighting in dark areas, inside and out. While you're at it, place a sturdy stool or bench in the bedroom to make dressing easier. Stairs are also a fall hazard; make sure they are clear of loose rugs and debris and are equipped with sturdy railings. Finally, help arrange everyday items on shelves that are easy to reach and ensure that main throughways are unobstructed by poorly placed furniture or stacks of newspapers waiting to find their way to the recycle bin.
When was the last time your grandfather bought a new pair of shoes? For the holidays, buy him a stable shoe with good traction and tie-up laces, or better yet, Velcro fasteners. While you are at it, take a look at his slippers. If they flop around on his feet, throw them out and replace them with ones that fit tightly and have a hard sole.
Manage illnesses and medications
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How many medicines is your father on? If he takes more than four, research shows his risk for falling is increased. That's because medications can make people dizzy and sometimes disoriented. Vision problems are also a culprit, as are abnormal blood pressure and shortness of breath. With such conditions, individuals might experience dizzy spells when going from sitting to standing.
Combat falling with a strong body
Next, talk with your older aunt or grandmother about ways she can lessen the impacts of falls by keeping her body strong and limber. Help her figure out a daily stretching and light lifting routine. Suggest that she walk every day. Weak muscles affect the way her body moves and may make it so she can't get up if she does fall. If she has problems walking, ask her doctor or a physical therapist about a proper walking aide.
Consider knee or hip replacement therapy
Stiffness and pain caused by arthritis — especially in the knees and hips — prevent joints from making the small, corrective movements they need for a steady gait. If osteoarthritis has deteriorated your elderly relative's joints, it may be time to suggest joint replacement therapy.
According to Dr. Michael Sisk, orthopedic surgeon with The Memorial Hospital, arthritis is a main indicator for knee and hip replacements. Assure your elderly relative that the process today is much more high-tech, precise and efficient than ever before. Sisk said that a knee replacement surgery is a "straightforward, simple, half-hour procedure, and patients can leave the next day." Full recovery often is achieved within a few months.
Lastly, don't let your loved one support the statistics that state falls increase after winter storms. Make sure to shovel the walk quickly after storms and apply a snow and ice melt product along the sidewalk and driveway.
This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered health care and service excellence.