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Tips for Preventing Falls and Broken Hips in Elderly Parents

Mom fell often - as in at least once a week. She lived alone in her apartment for several years after Dad needed nursing home care. One reason Mom could remain alone was that I arrived bright and early every day at her home to help her shower, get her breakfast ready and do some light washing and straightening up. I'd later come over to pick her up and drive her to visit Dad.

Another reason she could remain alone was that she wore a personal alarm. I'd become aware of those in the early ‘90s when a neighbor needed a way to alert me if he got into trouble. I've found personal alarms to be an invaluable aid to anyone living alone who may have the need to summon help. If anyone's alarm got a work out, it was Mom's.

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Mom had severe osteoarthritis and she'd had two hip replacements, the last one occurring fairly late in her life. Her knees rubbed bone on bone and had collapsed inward. They needed replacement, as well, but she was too frail for the surgery. Though she faithfully used her wheeled walker for balance, she still fell regularly.

I've joked (actually, it's thinly veiled seriousness) with care agency people, and our city leaders, that every city needs one person available day and night to just sit and wait for a call to pick someone up off the floor. Caregivers have a dreadful time with this problem and often they don't know who to call for help.

Mom outweighed me and when she fell she was dead weight on the floor. Also, with her hip replacements and barely workable knees, it would be easy to hurt her. My solution was to call 911. I'd tell the dispatcher that we didn't need lights and police cars. It's just a fall. The firefighters would arrive, assess Mom and help her get up. She'd cheerfully thank them and we'd send them on their way. It got increasingly embarrassing as the same men seemed to be on duty with each call. Eventually, one man not too kindly implied that we were misusing the service.

I understood. But what is a caregiver to do? There were only a couple of more falls after that embarrassing time before the final at-home fall where Mom told me, the morning after, that she was afraid and she wanted to move to Rosewood to be with Dad. I jumped at this chance to get her to safety and got her through the red tape in time to have her in a room at the nursing home by evening – before she changed her mind.

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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