Unintentional falls are a leading cause of injury and death in older Americans, and the problem is only getting worse. It’s an expensive issue as well: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that by 2020, indirect and direct costs related to falls will reach around $67.7 billion a year. Most falls happen in the home, where simple aids and relatively inexpensive fixes can make a big difference — if you can convince aging family and friends of their value. Here are some ways to speak to your elderly loved one about the dangers of falling, and ways to avoid them.
Watching an elderly parent’s health decline is never easy, but for many adult children, like Patty Cicione of Norton, Mass., having conversations about a parent’s vulnerabilities, health and well-being in their later years can be equally difficult.
“Mom was 74 years old, living alone in the two-story house that she had built 50 years earlier with my dad,” Cicione said.
She was becoming frail, forgetful and increasingly unsteady on her feet. I was worried that if she fell and broke a hip or something else, she might never recover or end up in a nursing home for the rest of her life.
And to make matters worse, every time I tried to talk to her about what we could do to help keep her safe, she shut down and didn’t want to talk about it.It’s an unfortunate reality, but every year, one in three older Americans fall, making it the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for seniors age 65 and older.
A simple fall can cause a serious hip fracture, broken bone or head injury, which can lead to hospital stays, disability, loss of independence and even death. But even falls without a major injury can cause seniors to become fearful or depressed, making it difficult for them to stay active.
If you have concerns about an aging parent or other loved one’s risk of falling, have a talk with them and offer your support. Most falls can be prevented and injuries averted with just a few simple preventative steps.
If you need help broaching this sometimes-difficult topic with your parent, use this article as a prompter, and consider the following tips.
Start by taking the time to sit down and have a thoughtful, direct conversation, and if you have siblings, consider getting them involved too, so your parent will know everyone in the family is concerned.
Tell your parent that even though they are okay now, you’re worried about their future safety if they were to fall and injure themselves and no one was around to help.
And, let them know the unsettling statistic that nearly 30 percent of U.S. seniors who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries that can make it hard to get around or live independently in their own home, and can increase their risk of an early death.
Be respectful with your comments, and try to avoid being bossy or over dramatic. And listen to your parent’s thoughts, concerns or fears that they express.
If you need some help, contact your parent’s doctor to see if they could examine your mom or dad and talk to them about falls. Many seniors will often listen to their doctor before they will listen to their own family.
After you get your parent’s attention, here are six tips your parent and you can implement that can help keep them safe.
Start exercising: Weak leg muscles and poor balance are two of the biggest risk factors that cause seniors to fall. Tai chi, walking, water aerobics and strength training are all good for improving balance and strength, as are a number of simple balance exercises that your parent can do anytime, like standing on one foot for 30 seconds then switching to the other foot, and walking heel-to-toe across the room.
For additional balance and leg strengthening exercises, the National Institute on Aging offers free exercise guides and a DVD that you can order at Go4Life.nia.nih.gov, or call at 800-222-2225.
Review medications: Does your parent take any medicine or combination of medicines that make him or her dizzy, sleepy or lightheaded? If so, gather up all the drugs they take — prescriptions and over-the-counter — and take them to their doctor or pharmacist for a drug review and adjustment.
Note that many blood pressure medications, anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, antipsychotic drugs, diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, some painkillers and over-the-counter drugs that cause drowsiness are common culprits in medication-related falls.
Get an eye exam: Poor vision can be another contributor to falls, so get your parent’s eyes checked every year. They may be wearing the wrong glasses or have developed a condition such as glaucoma or cataracts that make it harder to see obstacles on the floor.
Read more ways to help prevent falls here.