Fall Is About Fall Prevention
Step Safely into Fall
Fall is a wonderful time of year. There is a fresh chill in the morning air. The sky seems a brighter blue. The trees show off their splash of Autumn color. However many of us see a different picture when we hear the word “fall”. As a healthcare provider I see fractured hips, black eyes, broken glasses, embarrassment, hospitalization and even death. Falls and the subsequent health related challenges after a fall have gotten the attention of the US Council on Aging. They have designated the first day of fall, Sept 23, 2014, as Falls Prevention Awareness Day. So this time of year I see both the beauty of the fall season and the tragedy of a painful physical fall.
Many of us have an elderly family member or friend that has experienced a fall. One out of every three people over the age of 65 will experience a fall this year. Falls produce about 25% of hospital admissions. These falls can result in injury ranging from shattered confidence to a shattered hip or even worse. It is likely that if your loved one hasn’t experienced a fall, they eventually will.
So what can you do? What can I do? What can we do? Can we as family and friends make a difference? If we talk about the problem and possible injuries without solutions, we will only promote “the fear of falling.” When the elderly are fearful about falling, they tend to stay indoors more. They tend to walk and move less which gradually diminishes strength, coordination, endurance and reflexes. As one has less strength, coordination, endurance and slower reflexes, the chance of falling increases. So we need to lovingly share the dangers of falls along with some simple strategies that limit fall risk.
The following are a few some basic steps that will help you and your loved ones diminish the fall risk:
- Step #1 Learn about fall prevention. There are many websites and brochures that give excellent advice for fall prevention strategies. The Public Health Agency of Canada has excellent information on their website www.publichealth.gc.ca . The Providence of British Columbia has additional fall prevention information www.health.gov.bc.ca/prevention/fallprevention. There are many many more resources available on the internet as well.
- Step #2 Watch for the right time to gently express your concerns about potential falls to your elderly family and friends. Make sure you do not imply that you want to take away their independence. And make certain it does no appear that you are telling them what to do. They are adults. Treat them with dignity and respect. Look for opportunities to share open conversation about the issues.
- Step #3 Be prepared to share the information you have learned from the step #1. This could be through conversation with them or by sharing printed fall prevention material.
- Step #4 Once an elderly family member or friend becomes aware of unsafe areas in their home, they may want to make changes in their home to diminish their fall risk. Offer to help them. Maybe they need physical help or just encouragement and moral support.
- Step #5 Encourage regular physician visits and proper medication management. Often the elderly are taking many medications improperly. This can significantly increase the risk of falls. Encourage discussion with the physician about the medications needed, side effects of those medications, and strategies for medication compliance.
- Step #6 Encourage yearly eye exams. As we age, our vision can change quickly but the elderly may not notice the changes. Vision deficits and changes in vision significantly increase fall risk.
- Step #7 Encourage participation in physician approved exercise programs. Consider a referral to a physiotherapist who can customize an exercise routine which will take into consideration present health limitations, exercise preferences, and educate them regarding safety during exercise. Regular exercise will maintain or improve endurance, muscle strength, balance, reflexes and flexibility which are all factors in fall prevention.
- Step #8 Encourage proper footwear. Slip on type footwear with an open heel are not stable or supportive. Encourage supportive footwear with nonskid soles. Make certain that the shoes fit well. Your physician, podiatrist of physiotherapist should be able to advise you.
- Step #9 Encourage consistent healthy meals and adequate fluid intake. There are many elderly who fall simply because of mild dehydration or blood sugar fluctuations from lack of consistent meals. There are several ways you can help in this area: offer to assist with meal planning, transportation to the grocery store, write down daily activity and meal schedule, cook together, share meals from your own home, or connect them with local community meal providers.
- Step #10 Stay in contact. Keep connected. Visit often. Notice any changes in their walking pattern, their communication, their weight, and their personal hygiene. Be ready to contact a healthcare provider if changes are noted.
So let’s make this fall season about something more than only enjoying the beautiful scenery. Let’s be proactive and help those we love to stay as active and independent as possible. Let’s encourage our elderly friends and family to stay healthy so they can enjoy the fall season this year and for many years to come.
Happy Fall Ya’ll!