For people age 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of injury-related fatality. At least a fifth of those that fall have moderate to severe effects, including head trauma, spinal cord injury, and fractures. All falls are maddeningly unpredictable and usually occur in familiar surroundings. The single greatest prediction of a future fall is a past one. The chances of recovery are complicated by the fact that an elderly person who has had a fall may restrict daily tasks in order to avoid another one.
Recent studies have revealed that Vitamin D deficiency is becoming a recognized risk factor for falls in older adults. It is currently being recommended that older adults who are housebound or inactive due to physical limitations should take Vitamin D supplements.
The 4 proven strategies for preventing falls include:
Participating in a specialized exercise program that addresses balance and gait disturbances. Studies have shown that personalized exercise programs reduce falls by 20%.
Assessment of home hazards, such as removal of throw rugs and clutter, diminishes risk by 10-15%.
Careful review of medications by your physician and/or pharmacist is also recommended since some medications may cause light-headedness and/or lethargy which may contribute to a fall.
A thorough vision examination is also imperative.
A physical therapist can assist a person in assessing their fall risk and work towards reducing that risk by determining an appropriate exercise program that addresses balance and gait disturbances. Physical and Occupational therapists can also assist with home safety assessments to determine home hazards and assist with problem solving to decrease these hazards and reduce the risk for falls in the home.
As a health care professional for the past 15+ years I’ve always felt pretty confident I could find a good doctor, pharmacist, caregiver, physical therapist, or nurse if the time ever came that I needed one…especially in a crisis. I was recently put on the caregiver side of the health care equation – nothing earth shattering, but my son broke his leg and it came with a unique set of circumstances. Lost dreams of a summer soccer season, bike riding and swimming with friends, and a choir trip to Alaska were all things that suddenly seemed very much shattered. As his mom and caregiver I found myself wondering about all these things and a hundred others. I was squarely in a situation that was out of my control to direct. We were at the mercy of whatever orthopedic doctor the scheduler assigned to us.
I imagine this is how family members feel when a senior in crisis is referred to a nursing home for rehab or to a home care agency for on-going care. How do I know I’m going to like the person that is assigned to me? Will they take enough time for me? Will they answer my questions? Are they any good at what they do? Do they provide quality care? How do I know that what they are telling me is correct? How do I know what I don’t know?
What happened next on our broken leg journey was nothing short of anxiety inducing. The doctor we saw didn’t have time for us, he couldn’t relate to my son, and looked at me like I was crazy when I asked about pain control. We left his office without any instructions on my son’s restrictions or care. We also left with newfound gratitude for my profession as an occupational therapist; we would have been totally lost otherwise. What I realized after the shock of the appointment wore off was this: a broken bone had become routine to this doctor. It was a mechanical issue that needed repair – there was no passion for the care of the patient. To my son and our family a broken bone was anything other than routine; it was a loss of some short-term hopes and dreams. This is no different for a senior who sustains a fall, has a heart attack, or develops dementia – plans are changed, dreams are shattered, lives are disrupted…that IS NOT routine. How do you find an individual provider or senior care agency that will help you compensate, adapt, and be compassionate around these issues?