The statistics on older adults and falls are frightening. According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries among seniors. One in three adults age 65 and older falls each year. Once a senior experiences a fall, they are more likely to fall again. Experts believe the key to fall prevention is a combination of strength training, balance exercises, and vision health. Creating a safe environment is also important.
Advice for Adult Children in Michigan
Here are a few steps adult children of Michigan seniors can take to help their loved one prevent another fall:
1. Have a Home Evaluation: Throw rugs, uneven stair treads, extension cords and cluttered hallways are a just a few of the hazards older adults may encounter in their own home. Our best advice is to hire an occupational therapist or a physical therapist to conduct an in-home safety assessment. Your family physician may need to write an order or make a referral for this service.
2. Get Physical: Older adults are often afraid that exercising will increase their odds of falling. But maintaining physical strength, flexibility and balance are among the best ways to prevent falls. Talk with your aging loved one and their physician to determine what type of exercise may be best for them. One to consider is Go4Life developed by the National Institute on Aging. The program that includes a variety of tools, guides and DVDs you can order at no cost.
3. Schedule an Eye Exam: Vision problems can lead to falls. Encourage your older family member to schedule an appointment with a board certified Ophthalmologist. They can help detect potential vision problems and make recommendations for treatment.
4. Encourage Compliance: The majority of falls and injuries seniors experience occur at home. But home is the place they are least likely to use their cane or walker. Encourage your senior to be complaint with whatever assistive devices their physician has recommended for them even when they feel safe in their own home.
We hope these tips help you find ways to prevent your Michigan senior loved one from experiencing another fall. To learn more about fall prevention, we encourage you to read Debunking the Myths about Older Adult Falls developed by The National Council on Aging.
Heritage Senior Communities newest community is now open in Holland, Michigan. The Village at Appledorn West offers adults over the age of 55 one- and two-bedroom apartments. An assisted living community on the same campus will open its doors to new residents later this spring.
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Falls continue to be one of the leading causes of fatal injuries for older adults in this country. It is why finding ways to prevent them continues to be a focus of so many aging-related researchers. One study that might be of interest to our readers was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in June. The article, Effect of Structured Physical Activity on Prevention of Major Mobility Disability in Older Adults, explored how walking might help seniors beat or decrease their odds of being injured in a fall.
What Role Does Walking Play in Fall Prevention?
The goal of the project was to evaluate the potential link between older adults levels of physical activity and the role exercise could play in preventing disability. While seniors are often afraid a more active lifestyle will increase their odds of experiencing a disabling fall, this study took the opposite approach. Researchers posed a different question. Could higher levels of daily physical activity be considered a sound fall prevention practice?
The two-year long study was made up of 1,635 people between the ages of 70 and 89 years of age. Older adults chosen to participate in the project were considered to be sedentary by scoring low on a senior fitness scale. Each of them was able to walk one-quarter of a mile unassisted when the study began.
During the trial:
- Participants came to a research center once a month for education on a variety of topics related to healthy aging.
- A sub-group of participants was randomly assigned to also participate in a twice-weekly fitness program at the center. This group underwent supervised stretching activities and walks. In addition to the organized exercise activities, members of this sub-group also exercised on their own three hours each week.
- Every trial study member was assessed twice each year during the study to see if they could still complete a quarter-mile walk.
At the study’s conclusion, researchers found that those who were also enrolled in the exercise subgroup were 18% less likely to have suffered any short-term physical disability during the trial and 28% less likely to have had a permanent disability.
Talk with Your Primary Care Physician First
If you or a senior loved one lead a sedentary lifestyle, the results of this study should be motivation for making a change. Talk with your primary care physician first. Ask them for their help in determining the safest way to begin increasing your level of physical activity.
Heritage Senior Communities is pleased to announce that our newest community is set to open this month in Holland, Michigan. The Village at Appledorn West will offer adults over the age of 55 one- and two-bedroom independent living apartments. The campus will also be expanded to include assisted living in the spring of 2015.
My father keeps falling. I live three hours away and have had to drop everything three times this month to race to his house after he had a fall. He says it is just a normal part of aging. I think there is more to it. What can we do? I will lose my job if this keeps up!
-Suzanne in Bay City, Michigan
The teams at Heritage Senior Communities hear stories similar to yours from families we work with across Michigan every day. We know the role of long-distance caregiver is a tough one. Especially if you work and have your own family.
And, you are right. While our senior population does experience more falls, they are not a typical part of the aging process.
There are a few things we can recommend you try to help keep your father safe at home:
- Consider having a physical or occupational therapist do an evaluation of his home environment. They can look at potential hazards that may be increasing his risk for falls. That includes throw rugs, places where grab bars should be installed, stairway safety, lighting and more.
- Has your father had a vision test lately? Many times poor vision and falls go hand in hand. It may be time for a new prescription for his glasses. Or he may be suffering from cataracts that are impairing his vision. It is best to have it checked out.
- Does your father take any prescription medications? The side effects of some medicines can cause an unsteady gait. Or it could be the interaction between two medications that is impacting his balance. Your father’s pharmacist is a good resource for helping you make this determination.
- Poor nutrition can also lead to falls. Is your father eating a well-balanced diet? If he no longer drives or suffers from a disease like Parkinson’s or arthritis, it may be difficult for him to prepare healthy meals. Your local Area Office on Aging will have recommendations on meal delivery programs that might help.
- Strength and flexibility are what help us maintain good posture and balance. If your father has a sedentary lifestyle, you might want to talk with his family physician about strength training and flexibility exercises. He might recommend chair yoga, Tai Chi or another form of no impact exercise to help him regain his strength and flexibility.
If you would like to assess his home on your own, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a great Home Fall Prevention checklist that can help.
I hope these tips help, Suzanne! Best of luck to you and your father.