Each year 3 million older adults are treated in emergency rooms for falls, and not all people who fall go to the emergency room. In fact falling once doubles your chance to fall again. So if you or your loved one has had a fall what do you do now?
- Of course if the person has sustained an injury, has pain that doesn’t go away, or if they can’t walk on their own, GO TO THE ER!! This person needs to be evaluated for serious injury. A word about blood thinners: if the person that has fallen is on blood thinners such as warfarin, and they hit their head, I can not stress enough how important it is to go to the ER. They may feel fine but bleeding on the brain can take hours for symptoms to show up. Go the ER, tell them that you are on blood thinners and you have fallen and hit your head.
- Even if you did not have an injury make an appointment to see your doctor. Falls can be a symptom of another underlying illness such as pneumonia or urinary tract infection. You may also want to review your medications to be sure the fall is not from medication side effects. If the person’s balance is poor your doctor can order physical therapy.
- Take a look at the environment. What can you do to make the environment safer?
- remove throw rugs
- make sure walking areas are well-lit, use night lights or simply turn the light on
- make sure walkways are free from clutter.
- wear non skid foot wear that fits well
- your assistive device such as a walker or cane, do not grab to the walls or furniture
- Get active! If your loved one has poor balance do something about it. Have your doctor order physical therapy. If their mobility is not good and its difficult to leave the home, PT can come to you through a referral to Home Health. And while home health is there get an Occupational Therapy referral as well, for a home safety assessment, especially in the kitchen and bathroom. If your loved one is not home bound they can go to outpatient physical therapy. Make sure you do your homework and find a clinic that specializes in geriatrics and balance.
- Stay active! After they are through with their physical therapy, encourage your loved one to continue with their home exercise program. They could also attend exercise classes at the local senior centers and community centers. There are also workout DVDs for seniors, even for people with mobility issues. Hire a personal trainer to visit them once or twice a week to keep them going and progress their home exercise program. Be sure to find a personal trainer with experience working with older adults.
One in four older adults fall each year, but by making the home environment safer keeping our seniors more active we can change this.
Katrina Wolf is an ACSM certified personal trainer and Senior Fitness Specialist, serving Frederick County MD. Contact her about getting you or your loved one started on an in home exercise program.