Fear of Falling and Decreasing Mobility
Any person who is over 75 years old is vulnerable to become a fall victim. Persons who have diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and who have had a stroke are most likely to fall because of their health conditions. Studies show that a quarter of all falls cause fractures to bones, most often hip fractures. And, one fall often leads to a fear of falling and unfortunately, more falls.
What is the most common, preventable injury that can restrict one’s independence at home? Falls are often the cause of injury, even life-endangering injuries, and they are often unreported and preventable. No one plans to fall. A fall just happens; it is not planned. And often, it is at a time when you are distracted, in a hurry, and unprepared to call for help.
One Fall Leads to Fear of Falling.
Persons who have fallen can develop fear of falling. This leads them and their caregivers to restrict activities in their home and outside the home. This is depressing for everyone concerned. It certainly leads one to worry, and to think that their health is a bigger problem than it really is. Often, this attitude causes one to become socially withdrawn and isolated. If you can’t safely leave your own house, or safely take a bath and wash your hair, then going to the store, or going to church, or having visitors come over are no longer in your plans.
At the same time, sitting in bed is not the answer to preventing falls either. Reduced activity leads to reduced strength and poorer balance. In turn, those lead to increased disability and increased dependence. Caregivers face more stress in trying to persuade the patient to get out of bed and participate in life. Everyone in the house has a poorer quality of life and increased stress.
Simple steps toward preventing falls
- First, ask your doctor to assess the person’s health and look for conditions that might make falling likely. Ask your doctor to review all medications, particularly antidepressants and tranquilizers. Are they necessary? Do they cause dizziness or affect alertness? Know the side effects of medications. Can changes be made in medications, dosage, or scheduling which would help? Is the patient using alcohol in addition to their medications?
- Ask the doctor to check the patient’s blood pressure, and the change in blood pressure when going from sitting to standing.
- Get the patient’s vision checked regularly and update their eyeglasses.
- Ask the doctor about the patient’s level of understanding of dangers. Dementia can make a person constantly fearful and suspicious, or it can cause them to be oblivious to obvious dangers.
- Ask a physical therapist to check the patient’s balance and walking. Do they need a cane or a walker? Do they use the one they have correctly? A P.T. can teach them how.
- Your physician and your home health care nurse and therapists are invaluable sources of information and help.
- Take a look around your house.
- Is your loved one’s bedroom and bathroom upstairs? Why not move their bedroom and bathroom downstairs on the ground floor?
- Are there grab bars in the bathroom around the tub and toilet? Grab bars should be install by professionals. Consider placing them beside dressing areas, sinks, toilets, kitchen sinks, on the walls of hallways, etc.
- Can you remove slip-hazards from the paths they frequently walk around the house? Throw-rugs, electric cords, clutter, shoes, toys, water spills in front of sinks, etc. Ask your kids to get down on the floor to spot these and pick up as many as they find every day. (And, maybe, the kids will learn to pick up after themselves.)
- Check the lighting in those well-walked paths through your home. Can the lighting be brighter? Can the light switch be easily reached? Could the lights be made motion-sensitive so when someone enters the room, the light turns on?
- Does the entrance and exit you use need handrails to make it safer? A ramp? A chair lift? There are many ways to modify entrances. It is absolutely essential to have a safe way to exit the house in an emergency!
Ask an occupational therapist to help you evaluate the safety of your home for your daily activities. One study stated that after patients received a home safety mobility assessment of their homes, there was a 15 percent decrease in falls at the homes of those patients.
For more help with your home, try the AARP Home Fit Guide which contains a Home Safety Checklist that will help you find safety problems in your home, along with some advice about finding an occupational therapist and a construction contractor.
Don’t be trapped by a fear of falling. You can make changes in your home, in your health, and in your attitude which make a difference!
Your comments are welcome.