Seniors living in Mount Vernon and elsewhere have a lot of fears and anxieties these days, especially items that could negatively impact their health or lead to a need for palliative care or other types of care.
One of the more common – and most justified – fears that has been observed by the team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care is a fear of falling. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are concerned about falling from a high place like a mountain or an airplane, even if some admittedly have these concerns along with a fear of heights.
More likely a fear of falling is more about a fear of losing one’s balance at home and taking a tumble. Although younger people may not think an occasional stumble is that much of a concern, to a senior, a fall can be quite devastating and even life-changing.
A bad fall can even be the trigger for a whole lot of negative things happening in someone’s life. For instance, it could lead to a broken arm which means that someone may be unable to care for themselves anymore. This could lead to them needing to have a caregiver more often or all of the time. It could also require relocating to care facility or a rehabilitation center, which can certainly be disruptive.
People in these unhappy situations are also more prone to becoming depressed and less excited about life. This can lead to poor immune systems, a lack of appetite so their body is affected too.
According to the National Institute of Senior Centers, once someone has a serious fall, it increases the risk of future falls. Being aware of this risk may keep people from doing things that could cause the possibility of falling, meaning they’ll feel less interested in going outside, going to the store or taking part in other activities.
As this fear grows, they may want to stay in their home more and avoid social interactions, another factor which could lead to isolation, depression and other negative experiences. Another unfortunate side effect of this approach is that if someone consciously or sub-consciously cuts down on their physical activity because of concerns about falling, they will gradually lose balance, strength and flexibility, which can increase the risk of future falls.
Reduce your risk
Certainly not all seniors go through this exact process. According to the Centers for Disease Control, not all falls result in injuries such as broken bones, maybe 1 in 5. But the ones that do can be definitely make it difficult for someone to live independently, and even a fall with minor injuries can increase the possibility of fearing future falls.
Along with broken bones, falls can cause concussions or traumatic brain injuries, even death in certain cases. Or, in some cases, further injuries such as dehydration can be caused if someone is unable to get help, such as a fall in the bathroom and no one is there to help for a few days.
But there are also steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of falling. Some include:
- Environmental factors. This can require looking through your home and looking for possible hazards, such as slippery floors or slippery area rugs. You or safety experts (and even occupational therapists) can look for areas that can cause harm, or areas that can be enhanced with safety features like railings and handles. Other easy improvements can include changing light bulbs that may have burned out or not be very bright. Being able to see better can make it easy to spot obstacles.
- Lifestyle changes. A regular exercise program can help build up strength, balance and flexibility. The exercises don’t have to be especially strenuous either, so even something low impact like yoga or tai chi can get blood moving and help muscles. Plus, exercise produces endorphins which can reduce pain and increase good feelings and can help battle against depression. Other steps such as reducing alcohol consumption or quitting smoking can also benefit the body.
- Assistive devices. Canes, walkers, even a new optical prescription can all make it easier and safer to get around.
- Occupational therapy or physical therapy can help you develop or re-build skills that may have been lost, including walking or catching yourself if you begin to lose your balance. Occupational therapy can also teach other skills, everything from getting in and out of better safer to staying safe in the bathroom.
- Talk to your provider. He or she may have other suggestions or even discuss changes in medication if some of them might affect balance or coordination.
There are a variety of ways to boost your knowledge this autumn.
The National Council on Aging has declared Sept. 22 to be Falls Prevention Day, a national effort to improve education and awareness of falling. Local safety and medical organizations are encouraged to put on education programs and offer “Falls Free” canary yellow ribbons to show that you’re doing your part and also allow you to answer people’s questions.
Balance Awareness Week, sponsored and supported by the American Academy of Audiology, is Sept. 13-19. The association credits the Vestibular Disorders Association with beginning the observation. The goal is to increase awareness of various conditions which can affect people’s balance, and then encourage them to take steps to increase their quality of life.