What To Do When An Elderly Parent Falls (Updated 2020)
If you have an elderly parent who has fallen over or are worried about falling over yourself, take action today and put in some preventative measures. The majority of falls can be prevented so keep reading to find out how.
Falling over isn’t an inevitable part of getting older. Yet despite this, a third of people aged over 65 will fall over at least once a year, and this rises to 50% for the over 80’s. A fall can shake someone’s confidence (read more on this here), have a serious impact on mobility or even, in 10% of cases, result in death within a year.
So why do we fall over, and how can we prevent them happening? ElWell physiotherapist Nancy Farmer, who specialises in elderly rehabilitation, has answered our questions about preventing falls.
- What To Do When An Elderly Parent Falls (Updated 2020)
- What Causes Older Adults To Have Balance Problems?
- Negative Falls Cycle
- Strength And Balance Exercises Can Help With Falls Prevention
- Eat Well To Prevent Falls
- Preventing Falls At Home
- Checking Your Eyes And Ears Can Help Prevent Falls
- Medication And Falls
- Personal Alarms For The Elderly
- Wearing The Right Shoes Can Help With Falls Prevention
- What Should I Do If I Fall?
- Falls Awareness
What Causes Older Adults To Have Balance Problems?
There’s no one reason why elderly people fall over – many factors can lead to a fall. Some of these risk factors can’t be changed (for example, women are more likely to fall than men, and caucasian women are at an even higher risk). Fortunately, many of them can be and I’ll go through this now. Some examples of risks factors that are modifiable are; poor strength and balance, physical inactivity, the home environment, medication use, vision and alcohol intake to name but a few. With a targeted multifactorial approach preventing falls and a negative falls cycle is possible!
Negative Falls Cycle
Take a look at the slide above and see if someone you care for is already in this cycle. Then read on to see what measures you can take to prevent a negative falls cycle and declining function.
Strength And Balance Exercises Can Help With Falls Prevention
Physically as we get older, we lose muscle mass which is what gives our muscles strength. This starts going down from the age of 30, and by the time someone is 80 they may have lost up to 40% of their muscle strength. When you think of it in that sense, it makes sense that older people can fall over more. Luckily, you’re never too old to do something about it! Actually, the over 65s have the most to gain from exercise.
Simple strength and balance exercises for a minimum of two times a week can help improve balance as well as building up muscle and bone density. Both of which can help prevent falls and give better fall outcomes.
Speak with a physiotherapist who can tailor the exercises to you, or try out an exercise class. It’s worth speaking with the instructor before you go, to check it’s the right ability for you. Remember that exercises can always be adapted, and made more gentle if needed and every minute exercising counts.
Here is a video produced by The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy showing some strength and balance exercises you can try at home to help prevent falls.
If you want to read more about the benefits of exercising as you get older take a look at our blog here.
Eat Well To Prevent Falls
Building up bone strength means you’re stronger so are less unlikely to fall – and if you do take a tumble, can be less likely to break a bone or have a serious impact.
Reach for calcium-rich foods, such as dairy, broccoli, oily fish where you eat the bones and almonds. But calcium alone isn’t enough. Our bodies need vitamin D to absorb the calcium.
From April to September, most people produce all the vitamin D they need in their own bodies through direct sunlight, but this will not be the case if you don’t spend the necessary time outside. Older adults can keep up their vitamin D intake throughout the year with access to a heat lamp or by taking a nutritional supplement.
In order to build up muscle mass we should also eat leucine-rich protein in every meal (including breakfast!) – try for approximately 1.2kg per day. Go for lean red meat, fish, poultry and eggs. It’s also in high protein Greek yoghurt, milk, cottage cheese and whey supplements.
Preventing Falls At Home
Your home is your haven, but there could be trip hazards there. A good step to preventing falls is to look around your rooms and identify anything that could cause a fall. It could be an idea to do this with a carer, friend or family member who can help you look impartially at your home. Is there clutter on the floor? Are the corners of the rugs up? Any loose wires? Making simple changes at home could be the difference between falling or not.
You may also want to think about adding some mobility aids too. A rail on the stairs can make you feel more confident going up and down, adding a bed guard could stop you falling out when asleep or a bath handrail could make you less likely to slip. At ElWell, we provide advice and also run at-home services (across Oxfordshire) to help elderly clients make big and small home adaptations that suit their current and future needs. Or speak with social services for a home assessment, and you may be eligible for up to £1000 towards simple changes.
Lighting is also very important especially on the stairs and in the bedroom making sure that your path to the loo is well light and clutter free at night. Sensors can be installed to help with this when someone is forgetting or struggling to turn the lights on.
Checking Your Eyes And Ears Can Help Prevent Falls
Your eyes and ears help you to balance, so look at ways you can improve your vision and hearing.
Eye tests are free on the NHS for over 60s, and the optician can also check for cataracts and glaucoma – two of the biggest vision impairments in the over 60s.
If you have multi-focal lenses then you may want to speak with your optician about other vision options – as these lenses let you see different depths, they can actually increase seniors’ chances of tripping as they affect your depth perception.
For your ears, wax build-up and infections can affect balance so speak with your GP if you’re concerned here. Hearing aids are also available on the NHS (you can pay for more streamlined options e.g. Hidden Hearing but I’d recommend always starting with the NHS).
Medication And Falls
There is a link between the number and types of medication you take and your risk of falls. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that taking four or more medicines can actually increase your risk of falls by 18%, and using 10 or more drugs was associated with a staggering 50% higher rate of falls.
If this is you, then don’t worry but speak with your GP or pharmacist to understand what they’re all for, why you need them, and what alternatives could be. If you’re not sure what the side effects are, check this with them too, as they too can cause falls.
In addition to this, some falls are caused by medical factors including individuals blacking out, and not knowing what has caused them. If this happens to yourself or a loved one, it’s important to go to the GP as soon as possible so they can check you and understand why this happened.
Personal Alarms For The Elderly
There’s a range of tech options to keep you safe at home, give peace of mind and offer minimal intrusion. We recommend starting with the more basic options such as a personal alarm, and testing out if they are suitable for you, before investing more.
A popular choice is the pendant alarm. Usually worn around the neck, if a fall happens the wearer can press the button and alert a recipient (usually a monitoring service, which in turn alerts next of kin). If you are interested at want to find out more about these take at look at Taking Care (the choice of Which? and Age UK so you know they are trusted).
Moving up a level, you can install sensors at home which don’t rely on the individual pressing the button but are triggered if someone falls over and spends a period of time on the floor or the stairs. These can link to family members’ smart phones so they get real-time updates. Even more advanced are sophisticated systems that monitor behavioural patterns. For example, they can track how much water has been consumed in the day and send alerts to next of kin if levels are significantly different to the norm.
Wearing The Right Shoes Can Help With Falls Prevention
If you want to reduce your chance of falling, it makes sense to wear supportive shoes and those with a rubber sole and good grip. Backless slippers increase slips and trips chose some with a back.
Choose sensible footwear (Cosy Feet is a good place to start if searching online, I also like Ecco and Hotter which have stores nationwide). Also, keep your nails short so they don’t dig in and make sure the skin is in a good condition. If you have diabetes, polyneuropothy or arthritis, make sure you check your feet with a podiatrist or the GP.
What Should I Do If I Fall?
If you fall, don’t panic. Check for injuries, call for help or use your pendant alarm if you have one. If you’re unable to get up, then try and make yourself comfortable on the floor – is there a cushion or blanket within crawling reach for example and try to attract attention wether it is shouting or banging a stick! If you can get up, then do it slowly and in a stepped approach therapists refer to this as backward chaining .
1. Roll onto all fours
2. Crawl to a stable chair and use this for support when pulling yourself up
3. To do this, bring one of your legs (ideally the stronger if you have one) to a 90-degree angle. Push through your leg and follow through with your arms until you are up and able to turn to sit on the chair
If you have fallen and the cause is not obvious, it’s a good idea to seek medical advice and they may be able to refer you to a falls clinic to assess further why you have fallen. This will help you prevent further falls.
Falls awareness week takes place every year in September (21st – 27th September this uear).
This year it is more relevant than ever, as months of isolation due to COVID-19 has led to reports of an increased number of patients who are experiencing the effects of deconditioning and, in some cases, hypoxia-related confusion.
Raising awareness is something that we can all do! Research has shown falls injuries can be reduced by up to 60% by educating patients and their carers1 about how to mitigate falls risk. Share what you have learnt in this post with others and help spread the word that there is something that can be done. Take action!
So there you have it, some simple changes which can help you mange what to do when your elderly parent falls over. Make a change today! And if you’re based in Oxfordshire, find out how ElWell could help you prevent falls and stay steady, with our at-home physiotherapy service.
With a targeted multifactorial approach preventing falls and a negative falls cycle is possible! Read more to find out how.
In short yes. Simple strength and balance exercises can help prevent falls. Read more to find out how in our detailed article.
There is a link between the number and types of medication you take and your risk of falls. Read more to find out what to do.