Families experience growing concern when they see their aging loved one showing complacency, isolating themselves, and not wanting to participate in activities they once loved. Many times an obvious reason for their change in attitude does not present itself.
Oftentimes the reason seniors withdraw and begin to show signs of depression can be directly related to a fear of falling.
The fear of injuring themselves while outside of the home can hold seniors back from socializing and staying active, no matter how much they are encouraged. Being stuck alone, inside the house can cause an older adult to develop depressed feelings and further remove themselves from the outside world. The idea that a fall will render them helpless or even land them in a rehabilitation situation if they break an arm, leg or hip is frightening. This fear can be quickly complicated by other apprehensions.
Since falling may not seem directly linked to depression, it goes unrecognized by family members. However, with some fall prevention education and modifications, a caregiver and senior can work together to more comfortably continue outside activities and stave off the onset of depression.
Below are a few ways to implement a fall prevention program for a loved one:
- Determine if your loved one is a fall risk by assessing their mobility and any history of falling.
- Conduct a home safety assessment. Identify areas where modifications can be made to help reduce falls, such as installation of grab bars in bathrooms and removal of obstacles in the home that can create hazards.
- If the home is multi-level, consider rearranging accomodations to prevent frequent use of the stairs.
- Install a ramp or a railing for exterior entrances if there are steps.
- While we can make our homes safer, getting out in public can cause anxiety of a different type. Assist your loved one in rethinking the process of executing steps, particularly if one side is stronger than the other. Many physcial rehab specialists share the 'up with the good' and 'down with the bad' memory tool to assist patients in remembering which foot to lead with as they traverse stairs. Applying this technique will aid them in gaining confidence.
- Create an open dialogue between you and your loved one, and allow them to confide in you regarding their fears.
- Encourage community home hosting activities. Many senior centers have groups that are willing to hold their regular gatherings in seniors' homes for the sole reason of accomodating their interests and keeping them active. This can include things like knitting, quilting and card playing in groups.
- Provide them with ways to combat their fear of falling, such as test walks to desired destinations, and encouraging them to exercise in order to strengthen their legs and increase their endurance.
A family caregiver who is well versed in fall prevention and creating and implementing a fall prevention program can build up their loved one's confidence and lessen their chances of being isolated. Helping an aging adult feel safer at home often makes them feel more comfortable leaving the house.
Caring Senior Service, a national home care company, is creating a more robust fall prevention program. Specific objectives include:
- Fall prevention and safety assessments.
- Exercise programs including Tai Chi Classes. Research has shown that performing Tai Chi, a slow and gentle form of exercise, can greatly improve strength, endurance and balance without worsening existing impairments. The simple ability to feel capable of moving freely adds greatly to their confidence level. Even upper body motions and the strength this provides for those confined to a wheelchair has a dramatic influence on movement.
- A review of Vitamin D levels as many older adults that are deficient in Vitamin D can suffer from muscle weakness and pain. Proper vitamin D level improves strength and balance.
If your loved one lives at home, a fall prevention program is a necessity for their physical safety and mental stability. Through proactive measures, we can significantly increase the quality of life for the aging adults in our communities.