How can I decrease the risk of falling?
Pritpal Sandhu, MD, is a primary care physician at Banner Arizona Medical Clinic in Sun City West. His office can be reached at (623) 583-5271.
Question: My 76-year-old mother is moving in with me and my family. One of her biggest fears appears to be falling. What should we do to make our home a safe place for her to live?
Answer: Your mother’s fear of falling is a legitimate concern. In fact, falling is so common among people over 75 that it accounts for about 70 percent of accidental deaths in that age group. With falling being such a real threat, it’s important to take precautions to help ensure her safety.
There are several factors to consider when trying to protect someone from falling:
- Nutrition and exercise have a lot to with the body’s ability to safely carry a person from point A to point B.
- There are added risks associated with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related conditions that can affect a person’s reflexes and mobility.
- Stairs, poor lighting and loose, unsecured carpets and area rugs are just a few examples of hidden dangers in the home.
- The biggest threat in the home is the restroom. Installing grab bars around the toilet, tub and shower can help make the slippery confines of a restroom much safer.
- The number of medications one takes may also contribute to the risk of falling. Taking more than four medications increases the risk of falling since drug interaction can impair cognitive and physical function.
It is incredibly important that a person notifies his or her doctor if a fall does occur. If a person falls twice within six months, he or she should be evaluated by a doctor to identify the physical reasons for the fall (e.g. vision, hearing, medications, etc.) and determine whether mobile devices like canes or walkers should be used. The doctor can also help assess whether the patient would benefit from physical therapy.
Falling can have very serious, life-long consequences. A recent study found that 40 percent of people over 65 whose fall resulted in hip fracture needed skilled nursing care; 30 percent of those individuals did not regain their previous quality of life. Hip fracture is the most common injury elderly patients sustain from falling; falls among elderly patients account for nearly 90 percent of all hip fractures. These startling statistics illustrate the need to be proactive about preventing falls.
Conduct a home safety check before your mother moves in to ensure you’re providing the safest environment possible. The American Academy of Family Practice Web site has a wealth of information about fall prevention and offers a room-by-room safety checklist.