Haims: Here are some steps to preventing falls with our aging loved ones (column)
The first time an aging parent or loved one falls can be terrifying. Even if your loved one is lucky enough to survive the incident without serious injury, then the realizations that the situation could have been worse can be unnerving, for both them and yourself.
Physical injuries are a serious danger when it comes to falls. Falls are risk factors for fractures, concussions, broken hips and more. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html):
• One in four seniors falls each year,
• One in five falls leads to a severe injury,
• 2.8 million seniors visit emergency rooms each year for injuries sustained in falls, and roughly 800,000 are hospitalized,
• Upwards of 95 percent of fractured hips result from falls,
• And traumatic brain injuries are most frequently caused by falls.
Falls are a mental affliction, too. Either out of denial, embarrassment or any slew of reasons, fewer than half of seniors who fall tell their doctor. Even one fall — much less multiple — often makes our aging loved ones anxious or fearful about continuing about their daily tasks. Sometimes, this can lead to increased isolation, a diminished sense of self-reliance and safety and even depression.
• Take the first fall seriously — Given the fact that one fall doubles the chance of another fall, the best time to take the issue head-on is immediately following that first incident. This may sound straightforward, but these situations can be a mentally and emotionally stressful time for both our aging loved ones and family caregivers. Do not dismiss the severity of the incident. It may not bet a one-time occurrence.
• Understand the common causes of falls — Understanding factors that contribute to falls can help with further prevention. While there are many medical conditions that contribute to balance and stability, here are a few contributing factors we should all be aware of: medications, dehydration, low blood pressure, infections (often urinary), eyesight and poorly fitting footwear.
• Encourage exercises that improve balance and strength — Muscle weakness is often a major contributing factor to falls. However, it is also one of the easiest to address. Balance and strengthening exercises can be done inside the home, outside, at a senior center or at a physical therapist’s office.
While you should always check with a doctor or physical therapist before beginning any exercise program, here are a few great exercises that may help your loved one build strength, balance and flexibility:
• Start by standing behind a sturdy chair; next, lift one leg straight backward. When doing this, try your best not to bend the knees. Remain in this position for 5 to 10 seconds before returning your leg back down. Do the same for the other leg. Repeat 10 times with other leg.
• While still standing behind the chair, lift one leg to the side. As you did with previous exercises, try keeping your back straight and your toes facing forward. Remain in this position for 5 to 10 seconds before returning your leg back down. Do the same for the other leg. Repeat 10 times with other leg.
• Still standing behind a chair, stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Lift both of your heels so that you are on the balls of your feet. Remain in this position for 5 to 10 seconds. Lower yourself back to the ground slowly. Repeat this at least 10 times.
If you are trying any of these exercises alone and feel unsteady, dizzy or short of breath at any point, stop your exercise, move to a chair and sit down. If you are assisting a loved one, make sure he or she does not tire him or herself out to the point where long periods of recovery are needed.
Alone or with someone nearby, performing these exercises two or three times a day would be a good goal. Be cautious, and don’t overdo it.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.