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One big concern for many of us in the Sandwich Generation, caring for our aging parents, is how easy it is for them to fall. I still remember the day I dropped my senior dad and mom off at their home and headed on my way. Minutes later, I was doing a quick u-turn! My mom had called in a panic because my father (who had Parkinsons DIsease) had fallen in the kitchen and cut his head. We were able to get him cleaned up and settled OK in a chair, and he was fine, but oh – what a scare that was!
Another time, we had just parked at the medical center, getting ready to head upstairs to his neurology appointment. Instead, we ended up in the emergency room for three hours getting my dad’s head care for after he took a nasty tumble and hit his head on the car.
Granted, with my aging dad’s Parkinsons Diseases advancing, he was at more risk of a fall. But, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):
- One out of three adults age 65 and older falls each year but less than half talk to their healthcare providers about it.
- Among older adults (those 65 or older), falls are the leading cause of injury death. They are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma.
Oh my! While any age can fall, here are some of the many causes that may especially impact our aging parents falling:
- Slow reflexes, which make it hard to keep your balance or move out of the way of a hazard
- Balance problems
- Reduced muscle strength
- Poor vision
- Drinking alcohol.
Illness and some medicines can make you feel dizzy, confused, or slow. Medicines that may increase the risk of falls are:
- Blood pressure pills
- Heart medicines
- Diuretics (water pills)
- Muscle relaxants
- Sleeping pills.
The scariest part for our aging parents and ourselves is that a fall can lead to disability and a loss of independence. If their bones are fragile from osteoporosis, they could break a bone, often a hip. Over 90% of hip fractures are caused by falls. In 2007, there were 264,000 hip fractures and the rate for women was almost three times the rate for men!
The NIH Osteoporosis and Related bone Diseases National Resource Center has several great tips for how we can prevent falling:
- Use a cane or walker
- Wear rubber-soled shoes so you don’t slip
- Walk on grass when sidewalks are slick
- Put salt or kitty litter on icy sidewalks.
- Keep rooms free of clutter, especially on floors
- Use plastic or carpet runners
- Wear low-heeled shoes
- Do not walk in socks, stockings, or slippers
- Be sure rugs have skid-proof backs or are tacked to the floor
- Be sure stairs are well lit and have rails on both sides
- Put grab bars on bathroom walls near tub, shower, and toilet
- Use a nonskid bath mat in the shower or tub
- Keep a flashlight next to your bed
- Use a sturdy stepstool with a handrail and wide steps
- Add more lights in rooms
- Buy a cordless phone so that you don’t have to rush to the phone when it rings and so that you can call for help if you fall.
You can also do exercises to improve your balance. While holding the back of a chair, sink, or counter:
- Stand on one leg at a time for a minute and then slowly increase the time. Try to balance with your eyes closed or without holding on.
- Stand on your toes for a count of 10, and then rock back on your heels for a count of 10.
- Make a big circle to the left with your hips, and then to the right. Do not move your shoulders or feet. Repeat five times.
And here’s some good tips to pass on to our aging parents as well:
Sometimes you cannot prevent a fall. If you do fall, you can try to prevent breaking a bone. Try to fall forwards or backwards (on your buttocks), because if you fall to the side you may break your hip. You can also use your hands or grab things around you to break a fall. Some people wear extra clothes to pad their hips or use special hip pads.
One tool two of my senior parents are making good use of are the Lifeline medical alert systems that are so wonderful for the elderly. One parent has one of the regular medical alert monitoring systems with the choice of either pendants or wrist watch, while the other started later and opted for the auto fall detection feature – a little bit more expensive and not 100% but overall, we were quite pleased with it. Both wear the pendants 24/7 – even in the shower – and one has used it three times now and highly recommends it. I’m hoping neither parent ever has to use it again but I appreciate their having them, just in case!
Helping our aging parents to stay healthy and as fall-free as possible is a blessing to them AND a blessing to all of us in the Sandwich Generation juggling a wide variety of the multigenerational issues. As I often tell my senior mom, each of us taking good care of ourselves and staying as healthy as possible is one of the best gifts we can give each other!