How many of you are caring for the elderly, or are looking for part-time elderly care? It's not easy. There are so many things to look out for, and so many challenges to face.
One of the biggest challenges is prevention of falls in the elderly. There are many other things to talk about when it comes to caring for the elderly but accidental falling can be a nightmare and is an ongoing plight feared by many. So how do we prevent falls in the elderly?
We know that falls, and the resulting complications, can be very dangerous for old people but they are also one of the most common risk factors – it's just too easy to let them happen. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, "One out of three older adults (those aged 65 or older) falls each year but less than half talk to their healthcare providers about it." So this problem is not only widespread, it is also hidden. Caregivers end up in a difficult position of having to prevent things before they can happen.
So, What Can We Do?
Many risk factors and prevention techniques have been identified in medical and healthcare literature, so let's go through some of the more important among these. This might go a long way in saving the lives of our loved ones. Some of these risk factors are intrinsic and you may need professional help before you can notice them, for example, examination for back problems. Other factors are environmental and to some extent they cannot be controlled easily. But there are other factors that are within the power of caregivers – both formal and informal – to deal with.
Forewarned is forearmed. Some medicines can make a person dizzy or drowsy, or affect balance and co-ordination. This applies to everyone, not just the elderly. Caregivers might not always be in a good position to know this – medical confidentiality and lacking pharmaceutical knowledge might hinder this. But the elderly or their legal representatives should be able to ask their doctors or pharmacists to identify those medicines (whether prescribed or over-the-counter) that increase the risk of falling. The doctors especially, should be able to tell whether any particular medicine is a risk to any particular patient.
Remember that awful, horrible feeling when you wrench an ankle wearing thick soles on uneven ground? Think of this, only much worse, if an elderly person’s feet wobble too much wearing high heels with no ankle support. Backless shoes, even slippers with smooth soles, all pose a variety of footwear-related risks. In Asia, another type of footwear to worry about are the communal slippers used for many bathrooms (they could be wet, too). There are many ways footwear can be unsafe – they can interfere with a safe and proper gait, they can be too slippery, or they can be too large and be a tripping hazard. We should ensure our elderly not only have proper and safe footwear for going out, but also for using within the home – this is especially important for bathroom slippers since the elderly may need to access a potentially wet floor late at night, possibly without wearing their glasses, while urgently rushing to answer the call of nature.
Tripping / Slipping Hazards
We already mentioned smooth-soled shoes as a slipping hazards. But there’s more. The bathroom is a particularly dangerous place for the elderly when it comes to a fall risk. The floor can be smooth and wet, and placing loose rugs may do nothing to solve this problem – they might even increase the risk of slipping (remember how frequently the elderly may need to use the bathroom at night). Bathrooms often also have little kerbs, especially at the shower areas that are naturally often quite wet. Try to use rugs with a rubberised underside, to prevent elderly users from slipping on them, and of course try to keep the floors dry. Rough surfaces or rubber mats are another potential safety measure.
But that’s just the bathroom. Falls can happen anywhere in the house or outside it, so watch out also for objects cluttering the floor, uneven ground, slopes, and smooth surfaces.
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Now, this might be a bit difficult. So far, we’ve talked about removing problems, or learning information. That’s not expensive. But sometimes we may need to make some investments for the long term. We don’t really need to wrap our elderly in tons of cotton wool everywhere they go, but it would help if grab rails or other supports are installed in the more important places, such as indoor stairs or places that may often have wet floors, like the bathroom. Walking aids should also be chosen carefully. A walking cane for the elderly should not be too heavy, and should be adjusted to the correct height so that a cane-assisted walking posture does not itself turn out to be a falling risk.
Protein, calcium, essential vitamins and water. All these sound very commonsensical. However, what an elderly person needs for a suitable diet may not be the same as what healthy middle-egd adults need. Some changes are common to all elderly – for example, switching to softer foods. Moreover, a healthy diet can go a long way to prevent numerous other problems that increase the risk of falling. Diet also needs to cater to a person’s specific medical issues, for example, seniors with blood pressure issues or suffering from diabetes may also need special care diet-wise, to prevent fainting spells from suddenly standing up.
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