Yes, falls are scary. You hear about accidents frequently because 1 in 3 adults over 65 fall once a year or more. Worse news: the first fall doubles the risk of a second one.
You’re worried your parent will fall. Your parent is probably fearful of falling, too, even if he hasn’t fallen before. The concern is real.
Not everyone “breaks a hip.” People often hit their heads or break another bone. Around 20% of falls are fatal in those 85 years and older.
Before you rush over to your parent’s house to rip up the plastic hallway runner and torch all the throw rugs, there’s more to fall prevention.
Talk with your parent
The most important first step in fall prevention is to find out what your parent thinks about the situation. His key concerns may be things he can fix on his own or he may need support from you. Addressing your parent’s fear of falling is important, because getting rid of it can help him stay more active, maintain physical health and prevent future falls, according to the National Institutes of Health.
People often start tricky conversations with a little subtle maneuvering, “Dad, did you hear about Mary Jones, my friend Melissa’s mother? Her arm is in a sling. Melissa said her mom’s feet hurt so badly she wasn’t walking properly and fell on the front steps of her house. Have you heard of this happening to anyone else?”
Possible reasons why an older adult might be worried about falls:
- A new medication or strength change causes dizziness (common with high blood pressure medication)
- Anti-nausea medication causes drowsiness
- Feel lightheaded when standing up from sitting (blood pressure issues)
- Toilet seat is too low and have trouble sinking safely to sit and then have difficulty standing up
- Feet hurt to walk on, so trying to avoid pain has altered gait
- Shoes have begun to fit poorly and impair walking
- Shoes seem to slide, reducing control
- Knows he needs his cane, but it doesn’t seem to fit right or he’s embarrassed to use it
- Arthritis is affecting balance and strength
- Vision has changed
If your parent is living with Parkinson’s disease
People with Parkinson’s have twice the fall risk as compared to others of the same age. The whole body impact of Parkinson’s disease is the cause of this increased risk. Specifically, your parent will feel more prone to falling due to:
- Problems with muscles/movement
- Slow movement
- Decreased balance
- Impaired reflex action
- Changes in vision: it could be double and/or blurry, impaired depth perception
- Blood pressure issues often cause lightheadedness and even blackouts
Exposing concerns is half the battle. If the common environmental solutions are already taken care of, like those suggested by the National Institutes of Health, Falls and Fractures, you can focus on the main areas of concern and brainstorm together how to resolve as much as possible. Here are some possible solutions your parent can address, either with or without your help.
- Sore feet, poorly fitting shoes: see a podiatrist for help with corns, bunions, in-grown toenails, better fitting shoes
- Medication issues: take all medications into be reviewed by primary doctor and describe any new problems being experienced; especially important with Parkinson’s disease
- Buy and install a toilet riser, around $40 (and grab bars near toilet and in shower)
- See a physical therapist for proper cane fitting and strength and flexibility exercises
- Low blood sugar or dehydration causing dizziness: devise frequent small meals or snacks and appealing beverages
- Vision: annual eye exams, and discuss with doctor when review medications
- Fashion conscious? Buy a fun and functional cane; i.e., Fashionablecanes.com; “bedazzle” a walker
Exercising for strength, flexibility and bone health is the most important and effective action a person can take to reduce fall risk. Consider exercising together with your parent. We all need encouragement and benefit from camaraderie when doing new or less-than-favorite tasks.
As always, call me if I can be of further help, 402-261-5158.
Dr. John Bertoni, Dr. Danish Bhatti, Dr. Diego Torres-Russotto of the UNMC Comprehensive Multidisciplinary Parkinson’s Disease Clinic, Omaha, NE
National Institutes of Health
Parkinson’s Disease Foundation
Lee Nyberg, a partner at Home Care Assistance of Nebraska, focuses on education on aging issues, co-leads a Parkinson’s support group, and is a Legislative Advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association.