Do you have any suggestions to help keep my 78-year-old mother from falling down? She fell three times last year, without serious injury, but I'm very concerned about her safety.
Falls have become a growing concern for millions of elderly Americans and their families. In the United States, more than one in three people age 65 or older fall each year, often with dire consequences, and the risk rises with age. Here's what you should know.
As we age, vision, hearing, muscle strength, coordination and reflexes change and weaken the sense of balance. In addition, some health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, circulation problems and even medications, can affect equilibrium. Unfortunately, all of these factors make falls more likely. The good news is that with a few simple steps, your mother can improve her balance and reduce her risk of falling.
Fact: In 2004, more than 14,900 seniors died and more than 1.8 million were treated in emergency rooms because of falls.
Many falls are preventable (see www.stopfalls.org). Here are some simple tips that can help your mother stay on her feet and prevent a possible injury:
+ Drug review: Does your mom take any medicine or combination of medicines that make her dizzy, sleepy or lightheaded? If so, gather up all the drugs she takes (prescriptions, over-the-counter and dietary supplements) and take them to her doctor or pharmacist for a drug review.
+ Exercise: Improving balance and strength through exercise is one of the best ways to prevent falls. Exercises that can help improve balance, like tai chi, yoga, Pilates, stretching and even dancing, are the most helpful. Some simple balance exercises she can do at home include walking heel-to-toe across the room, standing on one foot for 30 seconds or longer, or getting up from a chair and sitting back down 10 to 20 times.
+ Fall proofing: About half of all falls happen around the home. You can make your mom's living areas safer by clearing out the clutter and removing things she can trip over, including small throw rugs, or use double-sided tape to keep the rugs from sliding. In the bathroom, use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors and install grab bars next to her toilet and in the tub or shower. Put hand rails on both sides of the stairs and make sure the lighting throughout the house is good. Also, organize her cabinets so things she uses most often are within easy reach without needing to use a step stool, and try to get her to wear low-heeled, sensible shoes with good support and thin, non-slip soles. (Tip: See www.cdc.gov/ncipc/duip/preventadultfalls. htm for a home fall prevention checklist.)
+ Eye exam: Poor vision can be another contributor to falls. Your mom may be wearing the wrong glasses or have a condition like glaucoma or cataracts that limits her vision. She should have her eyes checked by an eye doctor once a year.
+ Balance checkup: Your mother also may need to be checked for a balance disorder. Poor balance can be caused by a variety of conditions, such as inner ear problems, allergies, heart problems, head injury or problems with blood circulation. Her doctor may recommend she see an ear, nose and throat specialist (otolaryngologist) for evaluation.
+ Bone up: Strong bones can be a lifesaver if you fall. Make sure your mom is tested regularly for osteoporosis and gets plenty of calcium (1,200 mg daily), vitamin D (600 IU daily) and necessary medication to maintain healthy bones.
Savvy Tips: Depending on your mom's balance, she may need to use a cane or walker for assistance. If she lives alone, for peace of mind consider getting her a personal emergency response system (seewww.seniorcitizens.com/k/eprs.html) , a small transmitter "help button" that your mom carries or wears that will allow her to call for help 24 hours a day, if needed. Better yet, check out the new high tech home monitoring systems (www.quietcare. com, www.health-watch.com, www.grandcare.com) that operate around the clock, automatically letting you know when help is needed.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to "The NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.
The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.