I’m happy to introduce Victoria Bernet, a licenced occupational therapist who’s joined Food for Thought as a contributing writer. Each month she’ll share her passion and knowledge about topics related to her field of expertise. Join me in welcoming Victoria. Doni
Q: I’m concerned about my mother living alone. She has had a few falls, but insists she’s OK and doesn’t think there’s a problem. What would you recommend I do?
I know that older adults greatly value their independence. Your mother was fortunate to survive her falls without serious injury. Many fall injuries are devastating, and are among the most common and serious problems seniors face. Falls can happen at any age, but you’re more likely to fall as you get older because of age-related physical changes.
I can give you an overview of the kinds of fall-prevention measures that will help her avoid the next tumble:
An important first step is for her to have a doctor’s check-up. You might want to accompany her to make sure the doctor is made aware of the fall episodes, since she may be reluctant to mention them. A review of her medications for side effects and interactions may reveal a cause. Eye and ear disorders can be the culprits, especially if she complains of dizziness. There are many things the doctor will look for that I won’t go into here. Her doctor can also clear her for an appropriate exercise program during the visit.
Regular physical activity is the best prevention. Walking, aquatic workouts and tai chi (a gentle dance-like workout) will improve your mom’s balance, coordination and flexibility. The workouts are also a great avenue for socializing and generating feelings of well-being, but I think I’m getting off the subject here.
Doing home modifications and removing clutter are very important risk-reduction strategies. It’s often easier for someone who doesn’t live in the house to spot the hazards, because they would have a more objective eye. Making changes can be quick and easy: -Remove small throw rugs. Secure any loose flooring. Apply nonskid wax to floors.
-Remove things you can trip over, and create a wide access in high-traffic areas.
-Make light switches easily accessible in all rooms. Add nightlights where needed.
-Store flashlights in easy-to-find places in case of power outages.
-Mount grab bars inside and just outside the shower and/or bathtub.
-Provide a raised toilet seat with armrests. (A bedside commode over the toilet works well, too.)
-Purchase a tub-transfer bench or shower chair, and a hand-held shower nozzle.
-Provide a suction mat or nonskid stick-ons in the shower/tub floors.
Sensible shoes are a last, but highly useful recommendation. By that I mean shoes with good support and nonskid soles. If laces are a problem for her to tie, there are shoes with Velcro closures. If your mother has trouble finding shoes wide enough, have her try shopping in the men’s department. Avoid shoes with high heels, floppy slippers and shoes with slick soles.
She may benefit from being enrolled in an emergency medical alert service so she can simply push a button to call for help if she falls again. There are several companies that offer the service now. Also, consider helping her with medication management. Does she have a daily/weekly pill organizer? Is it being used appropriately?I hope all goes well for your mother. There are some great web sites that deal with the subject of fall-prevention in easy-to-understand language. Go to: www.stopfalls.org or www.nsc.org
Victoria Bernet is a licensed occupational therapist with an advanced certification in physical agent modalities. She’s worked as an OTR in Redding for more than 20 years, and specializes in adult rehabilitation. She works for North State Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation and serves on the utilization review committee for Golden Umbrella’s adult daycare. She is married and has three children.