About a third of seniors report some difficulty with balance and ambulation, according to the American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging (AGSFHA). This percentage increases after age 75 and is a leading cause of death.
Environmental conditions in seniors’ homes – for instance, inadequate lighting, trip hazards such as area rugs, slippery stairs and lack of assistive devices like grab bars in the bathroom, compound the problem.
The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one of the National Institutes of Health, states that balance disorders can be caused by several medical conditions, such as viral or bacterial infections in the ear, a head injury, or blood circulation disorders that affect the inner ear or brain.
The Mayo Clinic states that in addition to conditions affecting the inner ear, balance problems can be caused by drops in blood pressure, inadequate flow of blood from the heart caused by partially blocked arteries, disease of the heart muscle, abnormal heart rhythm, drop in blood volume, joint problems, muscle weakness, failing vision and hearing, and anxiety disorders.
Medicines And Fall Risks
The side effects of certain medicines, as well as adverse interactions of drugs, can make seniors unsteady on their feet and make falls more likely, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) reports. This includes some medicines for high blood pressure, depression, sleep problems, diabetes and heart conditions.
To reduce your risk of unhealthy drug interactions, always tell your doctor and pharmacist all of the prescription and over-the-counter medications, herbal medicines and supplements you take. Also, immediately report to your physician if a new medicine makes you feel dizzy or lose your balance.
AGSFHA recommends that seniors have their physician evaluate their strength, balance, gait, complete medication list, and overall risk for falls. This way the physician can prescribe a plan for reducing the risk. This could include adjusting medications, physical therapy, an exercise program designed to improve strength and balance, and an assistive device such as a cane or walker to make walking safer.
Regular medical, vision and hearing check-ups also are essential for lowering the risk of falls. Seniors should see their doctor immediately if they ever feel dizzy, confused, weak or unsteady on their feet – or fall.
Poor muscle strength and weakness is another cause of falling and may be associated with vitamin D deficiency. This deficiency is common among elderly peoplebecause the capacity of the skin to synthesize the vitamin decreases with age. Vitamin D is obtained from direct sun exposure (not through a window), food, supplements and injections. Serious deficiency of Vitamin D is common among elderly who are housebound, in nursing homes, and long stay wards and has been identified as an important public health problem.
Other preventive measures to lower the risk of falls include:
• Regular exercise, such as walking, water workouts and resistance training (check with your doctor before beginning an exercise routine).
• Physical Therapy to improve balance, muscle strength and gait.
• Limiting alcohol intake to two drinks or less a day.
If you or a loved one is at risk for falling, technology solutions, such as those offered through SafetyChoice by Comfort Keepers, can effectively bridge the times when a caregiver or family can’t be present to help them or when a senior may not yet need a caregiver in the home. Such technologies are monitored by professionals at central stations and provide phone notifications to first responders, whether a professional caregiver, family member, neighbor or emergency personnel. With the press of a button, help is on the way.
For a list of how to keep a home safe from falls as well as a list of medications that may increase the chance of falls, go to http://www.mnfallsprevention.org/consumer/home.html. FBN
About Comfort Keepers
Cindy Harris is the owner of Comfort Keepers. With over 560 independently owned and operated locations, Comfort Keepers is a leader in in-home senior care to promote independent living. 928-774-0888, 214 N. Sitgreaves St., Flagstaff, AZ.