Tomlin Paul | Perilous falls! - Make your house fall-proof for the elderly
Does this sound familiar? Mom lost her balance while climbing into the shower and fell and broke her wrist. Dad got up to use the bathroom late one night, tripped over the lamp cord and fell and broke his hip. Uncle fell outside in the garden, hit his head and had to have emergency surgery for a brain haemorrhage. Sadly, these are common enough occurrences among our seniors.
OLDER PERSONS FALL MORE OFTEN
The changes in our bodies that come with age can put us at higher risk of falls.
- Declining eyesight. Low vision from conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic eye disease can affect coordination and balance.
- Reduced reaction time. With the ageing of our nervous system, we are not as quick and agile in responding to threats.
- Loss of muscle strength. Muscles get weaker and joints become less flexible, making standing up, getting up from a chair, and walking a challenge.
- Limited movement. With less and less activity, the ageing changes in the body that affect strength and balance can get worse.
Many diseases such as stroke and arthritis, by disturbing the body's strength and balance, can increase your risk of fall. The side effects of some medications can also be a problem.
AFTER A FALL
Just one fall can change your life! If you get up with no physical injury, you may have lost confidence in your ability to get around and start restricting your activities. But with declining bone strength, chances are you may break a bone. In Jamaica, 90 per cent of hip fractures are due to falls and these are predominantly in persons 65 years and older. Falls after 50 may mean long stays in hospital and reduced function after you recover. In some cases, the result could be like when Humpty Dumpty had that great fall!
strength and balance
Don't just manage your chronic disease with medication and doctor's visits, but aim to keep fit. Get help with a programme of exercises to increase your strength and balance. Yoga, Pilates and Tai chi are good examples.
Make your house fall-proof
The floor in your living room, bedroom, and corridors can be a minefield of things waiting to trip you up. Get rid of loose rugs, mats, curled up edges on carpets and linoleum and electrical cords and small objects. Very shiny, slippery floors are also bad news.
As important as it is, the bathroom can be the most dangerous room for the elderly. You should not have to make a big step-over to get into the shower and the shower and bathroom floor must be non-skid with no loose mats. Put grab bars on the wall and raise the height of that low toilet so that you can rise from it safely. Good lighting is needed right throughout the house, especially on steps and corridors.
If you are caring for a senior, take a good look at the situation and their risk of falling. Start today by making small changes to reduce and prevent what can be a perilous event!
- Dr Tomlin Paul is a family physician at Health Plus Associates in Kingston; email: firstname.lastname@example.org