Tips to help elders/seniors from falling – by francy Dickinson
Dear Francy: Dad fell twice this week alone. He has a bruise on his upper thigh and his ribs are sore. I took him in to the doctor to check it out after the second fall, but this is so frightening. His Parkinson’s is just turning his legs into jelly. What can we do to keep him safe?
I am right there with you. My Georgie is falling all the time and I worry so about a broken hip. How do you keep someone that is aging and losing their strength from taking tumbles? Well there are things you can do to lessen the problem. So, lets go through the list together and see what pertains to us and if we can use the ideas to keep our guys standing and walking safely.
- Start with clearing space. No matter where you live…look over the pattern that the senior is using to go to the bathroom, the kitchen, the bedroom and back to their favorite chair. Is there obstructions? Remove throw rugs, extra furniture and any clutter. Keep the area clean and clear…so the cane, walker or wheelchair is easy to use. If you have to re-arrange furniture so the senior is safer…do it. Life does not have to be pretty…it just has to work for the senior.
- Take note of the time of day that the senior takes their falls. If it’s at night they may need a better path to the bathroom or a portable commode. These commodes are easy to use and you tell the senior it’s just for night-time. Set it up right by the bed so there is only a couple of steps and then put in a good night light so the commode can be seen and used. When I had mom, I would use the commode by the bed at night and then take out the bucket, clean it and move the commode part over the toilet during the day. This provided handles for the senior to use when getting up and down off the toilet.
- “Table top walking” is a favorite with women. They do not want to break down and use that cane. So they move through their home by grabbing onto a chair back, a table top and counter. This is so dangerous and you simply have to draw a line and refuse to allow the senior to keep this habit. Get them a cane or a walker. The rule is a cane is for pain. Used for recovery from an operation, a break, or a arthritis type of continual pain. The walker is for steady and support-always get a walker with a seat, so the senior can rest if they feel weak. The wheelchair comes when the falls are simply so often that you can not depend on the senior to be safe alone. Physical Therapy should be ordered and they will review your senior and help them make the choice of what is right for them. If it is a walker or wheelchair, you will have to go through the living area and prepare space for the senior to move. Doors may have to be taken off hinges, kitchen areas cleared and a basket to carry food and drinks has to be added to the walker or wheelchair for convenience.
- Exercise. Physical Therapy can be the key to success to getting any senior walking stronger again. After stroke care, Parkinson’s, severe arthritis – it all has a lot of recovery to keep the body in movement and the PT will give special exercises to help the senior regain strength. I found it surprising that doing the exercises even three times a week made a big change for George.
- Recovery. Mom was a girl that had a series of tiny strokes. She was in her nineties
and each TIA took away her muscle abilities. I told her in order for her to remain with me, in my home…she simply had to be mobile. I could not lift or transfer her all day with my bad back. So she was such a trooper. Each time she lost her balance and could not walk…she would pull her self up and use her walker inch by inch. With me following her with the wheelchair in case her legs gave out. She recovered over and over again. I know; first hand…that muscles do have memory and you can recover it with patience and continued practice. But there is always a line in the sand when wheelchairs have to be used and transfer help from a care giver is the only way a weak body is able to keep safe.
- Eating to stay fit. Protein is really important to re-build your muscles. Add a protein drink to the senior’s morning exercise routine. It will help give them a boost. Go over their food and make sure they have plenty of small ziplocks filled with treats. Carrots, celery, peanut butter on crackers, a cookie, fruit slices etc. Keep them handy so the senior can munch and crunch every few hours. If they are living alone, you will call them for a short reminder for pills and snacks – four times a day…this will keep their energy up. Often seniors forget to eat and drink..they lose their energy and that reflects in their ability to safely walk. My trick is that they keep a cooler by their TV chair and it is filled each morning with drinks, food, treats and the senior then does not have to go anywhere for their daily food. This is perfect when a senior is checked in the morning and evening by a care giver or family member.
- Rules: setting rules is no joke. You set rules for children when they are growing…so you need to set rules for seniors. They may break them…but they need to know they are there. George is not allowed to walk without his cane or walker. I spend my day finding a cane in one room and bringing it back to him and keeping the walker close. But his dementia does not help him remember. So, its my job to keep his tools of support around him close, so he uses them. George can not overload his hands…I now transport anything he needs in a basket so he walks with hands free and balance in check.
- Medications can be a big problem with falls. Talk to the doctor about his falls and tell him they are worrying you. Ask if he can review the prescription list and see if any of the medications could make the senior dizzy, tired or forgetful. So when you are giving the senior their morning pills – you can adjust their routine to allow them to rest for a while after they take their meds. Make sure the senior is sleeping in their bed at night and resting their brain and body. Many elders sleep in their chairs and nap all day. This confuses the body and does not help the senior stay strong.
- Talk to your senior. Just sit down and tell them your concerns. “Dad, I want you to live with us. But if you fall and break your hip – you will have to have more care in a facility. This is why we are all trying to keep you safe. I know that the walker is not fun, I know you don’t like to be bothered with me hovering. But I am doing this to keep you safe and at home (or with us).” When seniors hear your concern, when they understand your fuss is in love – they take note of their own care. Life gets easier. I often ask George; “What do you think we can do to fix this?” And through his dementia he usually has a come back. Some times its funny…sometimes its way to hopeful…but he feels involved in the conversation. A senior’s personal honor has to be kept in place for them to work with you on solving problems.
- NO SHAME _ NO BLAME I work very hard to deal with emergencies, not yell about them. Even though I get mad and exasperated when my Georgie does something silly and causes a big issue of a fall. I take the moment new. I use a calming voice. i tell him to relax and just stay still till he can catch his breath. I inspect his body and make sure he is in one piece. I ask him about pain level. (1-10) I keep him still untill he can recover his mind and review his own body. When I feel it is safe I assist him in getting up again, using a straight chair. I bring the chair to the site of the fall. I get George turned around and on his hands and knees. Then he puts his hands on the straight chair’s seat and I assist him to slowly stand. If he is dead weight and not thinking straight – I do not try to move him alone. I call for help. I have a neighbor that comes over and if he did not respond to my call – I would call 911 and ask for assistance with a fall. The EMS (fire fighters) come and get him up and into a chair or bed. They check him out and would then help me transfer him to ER in my car or by ambulance if it was needed. I force myself to stay calm and thinking.
- After a fall: I have George drink water while he sits calmly in his chair. I turn off the TV and put on music to help him relax. I bring him something that has sugar, like a cookie and make him tea. I sit with him and we talk about something totally unrelated. That allows his mind to rest back into place. The shock of a fall is hard for anyone. Letting the senior absorb the shock and relax again…then rest for a while before they go to the bathroom (or back to their day activity) is best. I always cover George with a light throw when he is in his chair…keeping him warm, rested, fed and calmed with music and talk…brings life back to him. I save my fears and upset for another room…away from him. Often the fall worries me – more than George. So I try to calm myself down with a little tea and maybe a walk around the yard or a chat with a friend on the phone. It’s OK to cry out frustrations, but its not OK to do it in front of the senior. They will feel nothing but guilt over your upset.
- Pain. If the fall causes bruising or pain. Its best to make a call to the doctor’s office and ask to talk to the nurse. Tell her what you have done and what the senior complaints have been. They will tell you what to look for that would require the senior to come into the office. The rule I live by…is the ER and doctor’s office are there for real emergencies and I take that seriously. Just like a new mother…it takes experience to tell when a baby is in need of rest and love or a trip to the doctor. So it goes for seniors in care.
Just the fact that you care about your dad and his falls..tells me that you are a kind person there to help your dad through his elder challenges.
George is now waiting for his PT appointment to get a wheelchair. I am concerned what that will mean to our household routine. Will he not want to even try to walk or exercise when he gets in that chair? Will his dementia and Parkinson’s really start to take a dive when he is no longer moving on his own? I worry about change…
I know what it takes to give care on a full time basis. Its lonely. I thank you for your love and kindness to your father. I hope these ideas have helped. Blessings, francy