Falls are a serious issue for seniors. The American Geriatrics Society estimates that fall injuries are responsible for medical costs of up to $50 billion annually. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that these injuries claim the lives of almost 30,000 older adults each year. Experts project that as more and more seniors live to age 85 and beyond, this number will double by the year 2030.
This steep increase is a downside of the longevity trend. Serious falls are most common among seniors older than 85, and today’s reduced death rate from heart disease, cancer and stroke mean more of us will live to that advanced age. If your loved one is one of these elders, you might be losing sleep worrying if they are safe at home.
When families think about the fall risk of a senior loved one, they might not take into account a side effect of falls: the fear of falling. Seniors who have experienced a serious fall, or who have been told they are at risk of fall injury due to osteoporosis, arthritis or vision loss, might decide that it’s best to avoid physical activity. They take to the couch, only to quickly spiral downward into a loss of muscle strength and reduced cardiovascular health.
Sometimes families share culpability in this cycle! If you are serving as a family caregiver for a frail elder, you may get a little nervous when they’re out for a walk or heading up the stairs. You’re tempted to say, “Just stay put, Mom, I’ll get it” if they need something.
But it’s important to help seniors overcome the fear of falling—and overcoming your own anxiety about it is a step in the right direction. This is where a trained, professional home caregiver can be a big help. If you are worrying about a loved one falling, it’s good to know that home care can reduce the risk in several important ways:
Supervision. A professional caregiver can provide a steady arm and watchful eye as your loved one is active, whether it’s performing tasks around the house, exercising, or heading out to a balance training class. Caregivers help senior clients remain independent, in their own homes, assisting when clients need help navigating stairs, can’t get to the basement to do laundry, or are unable to drive.
Making the home safer. You can take steps to help your loved one’s home keep up with their needs—for example, improved lighting, handrails in the bathroom, a raised toilet seat, and non-slip surfaces in all rooms. Once those modifications are complete, your loved one is safer. But some hazardous conditions are ongoing, and that’s where a caregiver comes in. The caregiver can remove fall hazards, such as a loose throw rug, a spill on the kitchen or bathroom floor, items left in the walkway, or ice and snow on sidewalks and steps.
Health care support. Keeping medical appointments, following doctor’s instructions, filling prescriptions and taking medications as recommended all help seniors manage health conditions that raise the risk of falling, such as weak bones, arthritis, hearing and vision loss, and the effects of conditions such as stroke or Parkinson’s disease. A professional caregiver can help your loved one keep track of appointments, provide transportation to the doctor and pharmacy, help with medication management, and report medication side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness.
Help after the hospital. Professional home care is available part-time or 24/7. And sometimes, an older adult just needs some help after surgery or an illness. A recent study published by the British Geriatrics Society found that a senior’s fall risk is much higher for at least six months after they are discharged home from the hospital, no matter what they were in for. Hospitals, with enforced bed rest, disruptive noises and lighting, can be bad for a senior’s conditioning and cognition. Once your loved one comes home, a professional caregiver on the scene can help as they regain their strength and recover.
Nutrition support. Your loved one’s doctor might recommend supplements to prevent or reduce the bone loss from osteoporosis—but most doctors and nutritionists agree that it’s best to get nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D from the foods we eat. The caregiver can prepare nutritious meals that your loved one enjoys, adhering to the doctor’s prescribed diet for bone health and all-around well-being.
Memory care support. The American Geriatrics Society recently noted that seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia have twice the risk of suffering a fall. And if they do fall, they are at higher risk of fractures, head injuries and death. Even seniors with minor memory and thinking problems are more likely to fall. A caregiver who is trained in memory care can help your loved one avoid dangerous situations.
Peace of mind for family. If your loved one lives with you, you might sleep poorly, listening for them to get up in the night for a bathroom trip. If you live apart, your imagination might keep you awake, or distract you while you’re at work—what if Dad falls down and can’t get help? Did we do a good enough job repairing the top step of Mom’s house? Knowing a caregiver is at hand can lower your stress, thereby protecting your own health.
Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2018