With over ten thousand baby-boomers entering the retirement ranks per day, the care of their elderly parents becomes their nearly full-time second job. This is an eyes-open bit of insight for all. Take your confidence off from your elderly parents’ dubious bone-strengthening drugs (they don’t work anyway) and put your energy into ensuring that they avoid the falls in the first place. How? Exercise your elderly parent; tighter muscles make for less falls. And fall-proof the home.
Recent studies are telling us that one in three seniors, age 65 and older, fall each year. 70 percent of the trauma calls in the region where I live are for elderly people who have sustained a broken hip or head injury. And that doesn’t even include the numbers of people who have fallen and, while not injured, can’t get up without help; our local district saw a 26 percent increase in those calls during the first quarter of 2015.
My 96-year old aunt fell perhaps ten times in her old age—most of that in the last six years—and each time the aftermath was a veritable nightmare. The reason? besides the obvious results of 1) having physically harmed herself and 2) having entered the engulfing quagmire of expense and management of those time-consuming emergency hospital bills, is that, not only does the elderly parent have to cope with the injury but now, with even less personal resourcefulness, they have to cope with the greatly exacerbated decline in overall health because of the injury. We have learned, and in our current involvement with my 99-year-old mother we have been blessedly moving away from that.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers seniors falling a public-health problem that is “largely preventable,” it says in its Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries program. An injury from a senior’s fall can have long-term effects, such as disability, dependence on others and reduced quality of life, the CDC said. Loss of muscle tone and balance; vision problems; medication interactions; bad lighting; and hazards in the home top the list of causes of this problem.
Elderly persons who have suffered from a fall cease to exercise. This means congestion may set in throughout the body, especially in the colon, due to poor circulation. Digestion suffers. Lungs and heart suffer. Muscle-tone deteriorates severely and rapidly, making the person prone to more falls. Thus, the health challenges are compounded. Amy Allen, executive director of the Southwest Regional Emergency and Trauma Advisory Council, observed that “Seniors worry so much about falling, they restrict themselves from moving, which makes it worse and stops them from doing daily things, like going for the mail.” [Source]
Lack of muscle tone through the use of muscle-relaxing drugs (in response to other problems in the elderly such as constipation and heart problems, can in itself result in a collapsing fall to the ground that may cause a spinal compression fracture.
All of this translates to double the work for the caretaker—adding to the already overwhelming load of total care of another adult human being. The “adult” part matters, because the person’s “will” is interposed in everything, unlike what a caretaker of a baby experiences. This accelerates the caretaker’s burnout. The conclusion? Minimize the likelihood of falls happening in the first place. Guard this preventative territory like a patrolling alley dog.
Fall-proof everything, including the elderly person’s environment and routines. No throw rugs [not even the rubber-backed mats], anywhere. Cork on the bathroom floor, if you have to. Two grip bars in the bathtub—or, much better, a walk-in shower. A portable plastic seat set there, in the tub [if you don’t have a walk-in shower] to pull forward, nearer the faucet when in use. A long loose hose on the tub faucet. (No water coming from above, which can disorient the elderly and cause them to lose their balance.) How to bathe them? Either you or they, scrub up the top of the body, while they sit, rinse. Scrub the lower half, while they sit, rinse. To do the crotch area, have your parent rise only a few inches, so that if they fall their body weight goes right back onto the plastic seat. Never allow them to stand fully upright where the weight changes forward, while showering/bathing.
Wash hair, as a separate task, in the kitchen, later. Lean their body up against the kitchen sink. Install a tall faucet there, if you don’t have one. This fully leaning position, anchoring their weight against the lower cupboard, holds them clear up to their waist. Do all of this even while they are “strong” and in relatively good vigor, though older. They will resist, but you insist.
When walking them outdoors, assist them over all curbs, even if they are fully capable of managing them themselves; don’t leave it to chance. Our 3D eyesight grows foggier and foggier as we age.
Furthermore, exercise them daily with whatever part of their body still moves. When health is far gone, exercise their appendages while their back (thus backbone) is fully supported, lying flat on the bed. But before that hour, walk them all you can, before the disabilities multiply.
If you’ll guard their fall potential, this will translate to an easier job for you.