How many times have you heard someone say their father or mother was fine before he or she fell? For many, an unexpected elderly fall can touch off a series of events that end in serious or fatal complications. Significantly, it can lead to extended hospital stays and disabling conditions that make living independently more of a challenge. The best advice is, “Just don’t fall!”
Losing Balance With Age
As we age, we begin to lose our balance. Due to their unsteadiness, the elderly are terribly afraid of falling and tend to view themselves as fragile. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the underlying reasons they avoid commonplace activities like walking, shopping and even socializing. Their physical reality combined with their fears often exacerbates their feelings of isolation and depression, all too common in this group.
The National Institute of Health maintains that “falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence, and injury deaths” among those 65 and older. Consequently this makes fall prevention in the elderly a high priority in the US. Moreover, the risk only increases as we age with 1 in 5 people 85 and older reporting a fall more than once a year compared to 1 in 10 of those between 65 and 74. Falls in the elderly are often fatal or have long-term consequences for performing their activities of daily living.
To be sure, we must counsel elderly patients on how to prevent an elderly fall in terms of their surroundings. Also, people do not realize how important medications are in this issue. Moreover, certain drugs can affect their already compromised sense of balance.
Specifically, medications to be watchful of include:
- anti-seizure drugs (anticonvulsants)
- hypertensive (high blood pressure) drugs
- anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs)
- aminoglycosides (a type of antibiotic)
- certain analgesics (painkillers)
- certain chemotherapeutics (anti-cancer drugs)
A Breakthrough Drug: Ritalin
Now, we find that ritalin may help prevent falls. In an encouraging breakthrough, Ben Gurion University researchers have found that a single dose of the drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy, helps improve balance during walking reducing the risk of falls among seniors. While they admit the results may be due to the improved focus brought about by the medication, they also feel that ritalin actually has a direct influence on parts of the brain that deal with motor and balance control.
The National Institute on Aging at Go4Life has information on preventing falls:
Regular exercise, especially those that work on balance like yoga and tai chi, can help steady the elderly adult as can weight-bearing exercises that slow bone loss and lower-body strengthening exercises.
Elderproofing a home where most falls occur while doing mundane tasks is critical. Remove tripping hazards from carpets, wires, and clutter. Half of all falls at home happen in the bathroom and a misstep in this room can spell disaster. Grab bars in places like the shower, tub, and toilet as well as proper lighting are essential.
Make regular eye and hearing check-ups to ensure properly fitted glasses with the optimal prescription. Wearing bifocals while walking or on steps may blur the vision enough to cause falls. Proper hearing can ensure no cues are missed.
Regular dizziness may indicate an underlying medical condition with respect to blood pressure, circulation, or sensory issues which should be checked out by a physician.
Physical therapy may be useful for improving balance and walking confidence.
Have the doctor or pharmacist review all medications to identify those most likely to cause dizziness and drowsiness.
Stand up slowly from a seated or lying position.
Wear rubber-soled shoes to avoid slipping.
Limit the amount of alcohol consumed.
Get enough sleep.
Falls can be prevented and a good caregiver can minimize any negative long term effects if one does occur. Furthermore, you cannot overstate the importance of caregivers who are familiar with maintaining safe environments and routines for the elderly. For the most part, many geriatric social workers and occupational therapists can help set up a safe living space for an elderly person. If you don’t know of one, a good home healthcare agency should be able to refer one to you.
Anita Kamiel, R.N, M.P.S. is the founder and owner of David York Home Healthcare Agency and is fully acquainted with all factors related to eldercare services and the latest guidelines for seniors. Thirty years ago, she realized the need for affordable, quality home health aide services provided and supervised by caring individuals. You can contact her at 718.376.7755 or through her website www.davidyorkagency.com. David York Agency is also on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.