Category: Fall Prevention

Understanding Fall Risks

Falls are a common and serious problem affecting many older adults. Individuals suffering with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia however, are twice as likely to experience annual falls and fractures. This varies from a range of factors including medication, night waking, shuffling, weakening musculature and balance. The first step in protecting your loved one from a serious injury associated with a fall is understanding the risk factors.

 

senior care Philadelphia, fall risk Philadelphia, dementia care Philadelphia

The following are common causes of falls:

Health Conditions

While everyone is at risk for falls, older adults are at the greatest risk due to chronic health conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, low blood pressure, Parkinson’s disease, dementia and other cognitive impairments. While some individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s are in excellent physical condition, many others seem to develop difficulties before cognitive impairment even begins. As Alzheimer’s progresses, it can cause lack of coordination, muscle weakness and diminished joint flexibility.

Reaction Time

As we get older, the nerves that carry information to and from the brain deteriorate. This slows reaction time and the ability to navigate around obstacles. This can be hazardous as seniors do not react as quickly in dangerous situations.

Medication

Many medicines also have side effects, causing dizziness, drowsiness and impaired vision.

Environmental Hazards

Many times, falls can happen because of environmental factors and hazards found throughout the home. These include everything from wet or slippery floors, poor lighting, to tripping hazards such as loose rugs, uneven floors, and trailing wires.

Visual-Spatial Problems

Because Alzheimer’s disease can affect the visual-spatial abilities, an individual can misinterpret and misjudge steps, uneven terrain, shiny areas on the floor or changes in floor color.

What you can do:

  1. Identify the risk factors for your loved one. Many people with Alzheimer’s and dementia suffer from poor eyesight, shuffling gait, muscle weakness and generalized frailty.
  2. Minimize or avoid medications that have been linked to falls. People with dementia are also more likely to fall when taking sedatives, tranquilizers, and antipsychotics.
  3. Exercise is important in preventing people from falling, especially if it includes balance and strength exercises. Ask the doctor about leg strength, gait, and balance evaluations. These tests help can determine physical risk factors.
  4. Consider a physical therapist or occupational therapist. These experts can work with your loved one to develop exercises strengthen joints.
  5. Make sure your loved one has eye tests regularly. Low vision is a huge risk factor for falls, and many vision problems come on gradually but steadily.  NursePartners’ use of theGEMTM methodology will also alert us towards changes in vision.
  6. Finally, get a home-safety assessment. Carepartners routinely perform these and can target danger spots and suggest easy improvements. This assessment can focus specifically on the needs of your loved one.

If you or a loved one is thinking about home care assistance, our team would love to help. Contact us today.

 

Sources:
Heerema, Esther. “Common Causes of Falls in People with Dementia.” Verywell.com. N.p., 31 Dec. 2015. Web. 30 May 2016.
 Perkins, Chris. “Dementia and Falling.” Continuing Medical Education 35.1 (2008): n. pag. Web. 31 May 2016.

Preventing Falls during the Winter Months

The winter weather accompanies the increased risk of falls.  We can minimize fall risk by eliminating some environmental obstacles.
Some of these obstacles are:
  • Dim lighting
  • Slippery surfaces
  • Clutter or pets
  • Inadequate stair design
  • Improper use of mobility devices

 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the following statistics:

  • One-fourth of Americans aged 65+ falls each year.
  • Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall.
  • Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
  • Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
  • Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths.
  • In 2013, the total cost of fall injuries was $34 billion.
  • The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages and may reach $67.7 billion by 2020.

Alzheimer’s and the Ability to Walk

Dementia can affect areas of the brain that are responsible for movement and balance. Because of this, many individuals affected by Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia can gradually lose the ability to walk and perform everyday tasks. Knowing what to expect can make an easier transition for you and your loved one in the late stages of dementia.

Understanding Balance and Gait

A crucial and sometimes neglected part of dementia care is the observation of gait. Gait refers to the motion and stride of walking. One of the first signs of loss of mobility, is walking unsteadily and shuffling. Your loved one may seem slow or clumsy, causing more accidents and bumping into things. This “slowing” is typically associated with a syndrome called “parkinsonism.” Other signs of Parkinsonism include the shortening of steps, “stooped” posture, and the narrowing of the space between feet. When a person with Parkinsonism turns, they no longer pivot on their heels, but instead turn in a series of short steps. During the turns, their balance can become unstable; and are likely to fall backwards.

Apraxia is another condition associated with dementia and the ability to walk. An ataxic gait is characterized by imbalance, and abnormal, uncoordinated movements. Typically the individual can stand, but is very unsteady, taking small irregular steps. Very early in the course of apraxic walking in dementia, a cane or a walker can help. It is not uncommon to see a person go from a slow, cautious gait, to a normal walking pattern simply by taking up a cane.

How you can help:

  • It is important to note that people with dementia can have problems with walking that are not associated with Dementia. Exhaustion and pain can limit how far a person can walk. Sometimes that pain can reflect an unattended problem in foot care or muscle fatigue.
  • The person you care for may also require a mobility aid, such as a walking cane or a wheelchair in order to feel secure. Sometimes just being physically present can provide your loved one with the confidence and security to walk.
  • Consider a physiotherapist: They can help with anything from exercises to strengthen muscles to walking aids.

Care for a person with dementia who is immobile enough can become difficult. Many other problems can develop, such as constipation, blood clots and pressure sores. If you or a loved one needs home care assistance or relief, our team can help: Contact us today.

Sources:

Understanding Dementia: Balance and Gait Examination – DementiaGuide.com. DementiaGuide, 2001. Web. 23 June 2016.