Dear Francy: My Aunt has fallen twice, that I know of, around her home. She’s unstable and refused to use a cane. What can we do to keep her safe and in her home?
First you have to make sure she has an emergency cell phone to wear around her neck. She needs to know how to use the phone and the best thing to do is get a family cell package for you and add her cell onto it. Make sure you train her how to use the phone; repeat the basics many times so she can just press one button for 911 or another to call you for help. If that is not available, have her sign up for an “alert” service. You will find your local hospital usually has one and/or there are many companies nationwide. Ask the alert company where they are located and how they contact you when she presses the button for help? You want it to be very easy for her to use. If she falls she may be unable to move around to get her usual phone. (Important for anyone living alone: put a phone in the bathroom with the emergency numbers programmed into it. Lots of falls and heart problems occur in the bathroom area, so it is best to have that covered. )
Then do a walk around her home. Remove all scatter rugs and if she has large Oriental style rugs, use carpet-double sided tape and make sure the rugs are secure and can not be moved or caught by a heel. Check all the tables in the area, if they are unsteady remove them. Table top walking is the first step when people get unstable in their walk. They hold on to whatever surfaces they “think” are sturdy places to grab. But a table can come down on top of someone so easily, so make everything that she might use as a crutch is strong.
Move her furniture so there are easy pathways through the house and to the bathroom. You might want to introduce a night chamber pot system. You can buy or rent them and they are very strong and work in their bedroom at night and then the chamber pot is cleaned and kept out and placed over the toilet during the day. (This would require someone to check up on her daily.) You can purchase hand rails for the wall in the bathroom, on the bathtub and by her bed. All of these things give her a steady place to reach out and find assistance to steady herself. Get a few plug-in night lights and put them in areas that she might walk in the dark. Have a flashlight by her bed; if the power goes she will still be safe.
Make sure her glasses are up to date; vision can cause distortion when walking. Ask her about dizziness, lots of medications can add a slight dizzy side effect. They will feel this when they go from a flat, lay-down to a sit up or a sitting up to a standing. If they take it step by step and let the inner ear adjust, the dizziness will not interfere with their balance. Dizziness can also be from high blood pressure, so talk to her carefully and see what changes make a difference; she may have to take the issue to the doctor.
Finally, a cane is used to assist a person when they have pain in their legs, like a bad knee or hip. If someone is truly unsteady, a walker is really what is used to keep them balanced. If they feel weak or unsteady a cane can do little…but a walker can really help them. Plus, the new walkers provide a place to carry things around and you can even get them with seats to rest. If you try to carry coffee and use a cane, you’re in trouble. So, its best to get a walker…ask her to come and look them over and buy it on the spot. Once you leave her alone, she will venture out and use the walker in private. So make sure you have the walker set for her height and have her walk through doorways and around the house to make sure the path is free and clear.
I was very open and firm with mother about this issue, because she did not want to use a cane nor a walker. I told her that if she was unable to walk around her home without falling, that meant she would not be able to continue living where she wanted to live. I was firm on that point and she used her cane right away and of course it made a difference. But about a month later she complained about not being able to carry things around with her. So, I went out and got her a walker. She used it “at home only” at first. After a while, it went where ever we went. Mother was very careful and never broke a bone, but falling is what eventually forced her out of her home. So, this is a point to be open and honest about.
Please visit my home page for more information on senior care-giving and do leave me a question you may have and I will do my best to answer – Thank you, francy