Monday, November 14, 2011

How to Help Your Parent Reduce His or Her Risk of Falling

While you’re visiting mom or dad for the holidays, teach your parent how to prevent falls, one of the most common injuries among seniors.

Physical Therapist David Avery of Catholic Health's Partners In Rehab and AthletiCare says that Erie County residents over the age of 75 are three times as likely to have been hospitalized as a result of a fall.

In some cases, falls are caused by the surrounding environment – poor lighting or frayed carpets, for example. In others, low blood pressure or muscle weakness is the culprit.

Here’s what you can do to help reduce your parent’s risk of a fall:

Monitor His or Her Blood Pressure

According to the National Institute of Aging, low blood pressure after meals can result in inadequate blood flow to the brain, which causes small strokes that impair walking, balance and memory.

If your parent is taking medications to lower his or her blood pressure, ask a doctor or pharmacist if they can be taken between meals instead. (Source: Institute for Aging Research).

Inadequate blood flow is also a concern when getting out of bed.

"Coming from a lying position to a sitting position, sometimes the pooling of blood goes into a lower extremity, and they don't get the blood flow to the head,” says Avery.

He recommends counting to 10 before getting out of bed to prevent a fall and possible injury.

Check His or Her Surroundings

Note any potential hazards in your parent’s home that could cause a fall. These include:
  • Clutter on the floor and stairways
  • Poor lighting
  • Electrical cords
  • Changes in floor levels
Place frequently used items within easy reach, so that mom or dad doesn’t need to bend over clutter to retrieve them. Keep cordless phones near the bed at night so that there’s no need to get up to answer it.

Check that paths are clear, such as from the bedroom to the bathroom, and ensure that lighting is adequate. Consider installing night lights so that nighttime trips between rooms don’t result in a fall.

Remove throw rugs and make sure that other obstructions, such as pet toys, aren’t blocking foot traffic.

Establish an Exercise Program

To keep muscles strong and the body sturdy, regular exercise is required.

Tai chi is popular among seniors because it is a low-impact activity that can improve balance, coordination, and physical functioning.

To help mom or dad get started, consider giving a tai chi exercise DVD as a Christmas present. Or, schedule a class that you can take together. Classes are available from the Taoist Tai Chi Society in Amherst, Buffalo, and West Seneca.

Make a Doctor’s Appointment

For anyone at any age, a primary care doctor should be seen at least once each year. For seniors, regular visits are especially important because we tend to develop more health problems as we age.

At Catholic Health’s primary care offices, patients 65 years of age and older are screened for balance to determine the likelihood of a fall.

If balance is poor, vestibular therapy, provided by a physical therapist or occupational therapist, may be recommended. Balance and coordination problems affect the ability to walk, run, and jump. If mom or dad has issues with these functions, it’s best to seek help as soon as possible.

Ask when your parent last saw his or her doctor and if a balance assessment occurred. If not, arrange for an appointment to make sure that any problems are diagnosed or prevented before an injury occurs.

By taking these precautions now, you can help to minimize your parent's risk of a fall and prevent injury.

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