Researchers estimate that 50 percent of individuals age 80 and above will fall in the next year.
There are many risk factors for falls. Some are obvious, and some are not so obvious. The following are factors that have a significant impact on a person's risk for falling: impaired balance, muscle weakness, walking speed or quality, low vision, environmental hazards, medication, low blood pressure.
The good news is that the risk of falls among the elderly can be reduced significantly when a comprehensive falls risk program is provided.
My Mom, Helen, is 86 years old. Until about six months ago, she was completely independent. However, she started to fall at home. At first, she chalked it up to "just an accident". But the falls happened with increasing frequency.
I was concerned. Mom was resistant to changing her routine, and in denial of the fact there were problems. I didn’t know where to get help. I hesitated to push the issue since Mom seemed to function well otherwise, and she certainly had a mind of her own! She was still able to get around locally, and she went to her family doctor for regular check ups. Then, my worst fears were realized.
One day, after trying unsuccessfully for several hours to get Mom on the phone, I stopped by her house on my way home from work. I found Mom on the floor in the bathroom, moaning and talking incoherently. Her leg was twisted, and she was bleeding from a cut over her eye. I immediately called 911 for help. I felt so guilty! Although we talked nearly every day, when she didn't answer the phone I had just assumed that she was out.
It was later determined that Mom had fallen, broken her hip, and had been on the floor for 24 hours. Mom was dehydrated, and she had bumped her head when she tried to get up. Fortunately, she had no other injuries, and after her discharge from the hospital, she was able to return home with HomeCare services from Holy Redeemer.
Mom was now open for suggestions to make her life at home easier. I was very anxious to learn about ways to help Mom, so I could support her in her decision to stay at home.
The HomeCare team, including the physical therapist, the occupational therapist and the nurse, taught Mom and me about the risks that may have led to Mom's falls. They also developed a program of exercises, activities, and recommendations to improve Mom's safety at home.
When Mom first came home, a home health aide assisted with her showers and self-care. Shortly thereafter, the social worker talked to us about resources in the community that could assist Mom at home when the therapy ended. She also provided us with information about long-term care options for Mom.
With some small changes in her environment and lifestyle, Mom would now be able to continue to live safely and independently in the comfort of her own home. And I could rest a little easier.