Caregiving Corner: Be Prepared to Fall

By Pati Bedwell, Elder Care Coordinator

Well, here we are. The autumn of 2020. I think everyone will agree that, so far, 2020 has been filled with unique challenges, giant pitfalls, and lots of unknowns. But we’ve persevered the only way we know – we just keep going.

That’s what a lot of elderly people have told me over the years is the secret to their longevity – they just keep going. Truth is, as you age, you don’t really realize it. We get up one day then get up the next day. Pretty soon, and all too quickly, you’re 40. Then 50. Then 60, then 70 and all of a sudden you’re considered “old.” You’d think we’d be prepared for it but most of us are not. So, I got to thinking about how you can physically and mentally prepare to age.

There are a couple of things about aging that can’t be denied. As we age, our vision and our hearing may not be as good as they once were. We have more aches and pains. Our balance is not as steady as it was and, to add to that, many people take medications that can negatively impact balance. What happens when you lose your balance? Hopefully, nothing, but sometimes, we fall and the odds of falling grow as we age.  

In the US, CDC reports that one in four Americans over the age of 65 admit to falling at least once in the past year. That’s an estimated 35 million falls in a year!!! Many of the falls are benign with no injury but, according to the CDC, one out of five falls cause serious injury including broken bones and head trauma. In fact, falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries and hip fractures.

Like everyone else, I’m aging. And, working in nursing facilities and around elderly all my adult life has made me a little more conscious of falls. I should mention that I’m a little wary of falling. Okay, that’s putting it mildly. I’m flat out terrified of falling. I’ve seen so many people who ended up in a facility following a fall in the shower or tripping on an uneven sidewalk, their pet or even their own foot. Falls are scary when you’re older – we always think we’re going to pop right up but that doesn’t always happen.

One thing I’ve learned since I started working at Takacs McGinnis is that lawyers spend a lot of time thinking about the worst things that could happen. They plan for the worst then hope for the best. That way, no matter what happens, you’re prepared for it – at least as much as you can prepare for a worst case scenario.

So, I started thinking, in relation to falls, what’s the worst thing that could happen if you fall, short of death? For me and most everyone I’ve ever talked to about it, the worst thing would be being dependent on someone else and no longer having the privacy of independence. Are there things we can do to help ourselves stay upright? And, if you know these things, will you actually do them?

For most things, it helps to be proactive and preparing yourself for a fall is no different. When I say, “preparing for a fall,” I mean having all the information you can, and then putting all the things in place that you can to prevent a fall. Know that no plan is fool-proof, so you also need a plan on what to do if you do fall.

In case you didn’t know it, September 21 – 25 is Falls Prevention Awareness Week. The National Council on Aging, NCOA, has a lot of helpful information on their website about fall prevention. One thing I thought I’d share here are their six steps to prevent a fall.

  1. Find a good exercise program that will help build balance, strength and flexibility. NCOA suggests contacting your local Area Agency on Aging for referrals for programs in your area. The number for our area in Middle Tennessee is 877-973-6467.
     
  2. Talk to your health care provider and ask for an assessment to determine your risk for falling. Be honest with your doctor. If you’ve fallen, tell him. If you’re just trying to be prepared, let him know that, too.
     
  3. Review your medications with your doctor and/or pharmacist. You know all those papers that come with every prescription? Read them! They may alert you to a side effect that could affect your balance, increasing your risk of falling. It doesn’t mean you stop taking that medication– that’s between you and your doctor – but it does give you information that will help you be a little more cautious and conscious about falls.
     
  4. Get your vision and hearing checked regularly and be sure keep your glasses up to date with current prescriptions.
     
  5. Keep your house safe. Remove tripping hazards, such as throw rugs, electrical cords, etc. Be sure to install grab bars in your bathrooms by the toilet and in and around the tub.
     
  6. Lastly, the NCOA encourages you to talk to your family to enlist their support in helping you create a safe environment. Sometimes they may be able to see something you’re not looking at or haven’t thought about.

There’s a lot more information on NOCA about falls. Here’s the link, if you want to check it out.

Please consider a PERS – a Personal Emergency Response System. That’s a little button you can wear around your neck that you push to summon help. Life Alert is one of the most popular PERS systems, but there are a variety of options available. You can even find systems available at Lowe’s and Wal-Mart. Many people are adverse to getting one. They don’t like the way it looks or don’t want other people to see it but, if you fall and can’t get up, you certainly will be glad to have it, especially if you live alone.

Questions about how to avoid falls? Just give us a call at 615.824.2571. We would be happy to help.

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