Preventing Falls: How to Safeguard Yourself and Your Loved Ones
Consider this scenario: You're rushing to answer the doorbell and your feet slip on the scatter rug in front of the door. You're escorting your loved one to the bathroom in the middle of the night and you trip over a pair of shoes. You've fallen-and you've injured yourself.
As a caregiver, I'm sure you often think about the "what-ifs." What if something happens to me? Who would take care of my loved one? Or, what if my loved one gets hurt? Will I be able to provide the appropriate care? It's a logical cause of concern. And it's not far-fetched at all.
While you might be thinking about "getting hurt" in general, you might want to focus on one large risk area, among others-falls.
The statistics regarding falls are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2004, 1.8 million people aged 65 and older were treated in emergency departments for nonfatal injuries from falls and nearly 15,000 people in this age group died from injuries related to unintentional falls.
Those with Alzheimer's disease are at tremendous risk, given deficits in judgment and other cognitive skills, and spatial orientation, as well as the fact that the majority of those with Alzheimer's disease are aged 65 and older. Caregivers, typically running on overload, might not be as careful as they were prior to their caregiving responsibilities-and are likely, too, to rank in the high risk age bracket.
In a prepared statement earlier this week, a prominent neurologist suggested that the enormity of this problem has escaped both the public and physicians.
"There is a lack of awareness among doctors and patients in recognizing and preventing falls, which can lead to hip fractures, head injury, hospitalization and in some case deaths," said David J. Thurman, M.D., of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
His comments were tied to the American Academy of Neurology's release this week, in the February 5 issue of Neurology, of new guidelines related to falls. The guidelines recommend that doctors routinely ask about their patients about falls and use screening measures and mobility tests to evaluate whether a person is at risk of falls and warrants prevention measures.
Coincidentally, the Winter 2008 edition of Care ADvantage, a quarterly magazine for caregivers published by the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, addresses this very issue. In a special section on "Playing it Safe," a top expert outlines steps to help prevent falls. While the author, Rein Tideiksaar, Ph.D., president of FallPrevent, LLC, Blackwood, NJ, writes from the vantage point that elderly individuals with Alzheimer's disease or related illnesses are at serious risk for falls, his strategies equally hold for all individuals-caregivers and those with dementia alike.
Tideiksaar's general advice mirrors that of the Academy's guidelines: "The best way to deal with any threats to safety in the home is through prevention-checking for hazards that frequently cause slips, trips or falls and eliminating as many potential trouble spots as possible," he said.
His practical tips include assessing and modifying certain risk categories, such as pathways, lighting, floor surfaces, furnishings and bathrooms. He also suggests trying to keep modifications simple and to a minimum to reduce disruption to individuals with Alzheimer's disease.
With so much at stake-the very well-being of caregivers and those they care for, raising awareness about falls, through the new neurology guidelines and other educational vehicles, will be much appreciated, especially by populations at risk.