The biggest reason elders are hospitalized is due to the fall at home. Nine times out of ten, a fall can be prevented. Because of the decline of bone density – elders’ bones can easily break. This is why falling has become the number one risk when caring for an elder. Hospitalization does not have to be the result of this story. If you have an in home nursing program in place – your emergency call can go to your nursing company – who can then determine if a bone is broken. Bone repair and healing can sometimes also be done at home – which further protects your elder from the trauma of stress and a changed condition – something that almost always triggers decline.
By the time, you reach 80 – your knees are likely stiff – if not sore and your gait is going to be much more of a shuffle than it used to be. Installing grab bars next to the toilet, bathtub and in the shower are one of the best ways to protect knees and joints. During that momentary-pulling-up-to- standing a lot of pain can be avoided if the grab bar is in place. Avoiding pain is a logical first step to avoiding a fall.
Throw rug removal
Once that elder-shuffle has set in, throw rugs are no longer safe. Small circular rugs, or any small rug, is a danger to a walker, a cane or a shuffling set of toes inside a pair of slippers. To prevent the risk of falling – remove all of them. Oriental beauties included – because they are the worst. Thick embroidered rugs are a huge trip hazard.
Cords and piles
By now you might have noticed that the pile on the kitchen table is growing, and that piles in general are emerging inside your elder’s home. This is because once we are over 80 our brains begin to lose the organizational capacity we have had in the past – and piles of unsorted mail and bills begin to form. Usually it is because where it goes is no longer an answerable question if lines are blurring together, words are not making as much sense and the flow of papers just keeps on coming in.
Cords may also be starting to cluster around outlets as your elder’s problem solving capacity has lessened – and easy work-arounds like just plugging “one more plug” in there seems a simple solution. Keep all piles and cords out of walkways, especially because your elders vision is not the best in shadowy or dimly lit areas. An emergence of piles and cords can also be a signal that your elder has become susceptible to dementia.
Good lighting near floors
Vision for those over 80 is usually not as sharp as it used to be. Especially at night, or in dimly lit areas. This is why night lights along the bottom of the walls in all or most of the outlets is a good idea. Where we are putting our feet is no longer something we do automatically once we have stumbled and fallen a time or two. Elders are looking down at their feet often if picking up their feet in order not to shuffle has been properly reinforced. Good lighting by the feet becomes much more important in the elder years.
Proper walking support
Many elders resist using walking support until there has been a fall, or a broken bone. Sometimes it takes a lot more than just a stumble for the realization to truly sink in. This is a point of compassion, as most of us don’t want to admit that we are falling apart and now we need a cane, a walker, someone’s elbow or some other form of steadiness - while just walking.
Needing walking support can feel like a failure to be strong to many elders – and not just men. Many elder women will choose to walk using a friend’s elbow – so they don’t appear to be an invalid. Keeping our dignity and respect for self is an important part of aging as well, so there may be times when this is the most compassionate thing to do. Using an elbow to enter a room gracefully is a kindness, and it doesn’t mean the cane or walker can’t be discreetly placed nearby during the evening.
Awareness is key to aging gracefully – and when dementia or Alzheimer’s become part of this equation – sometimes grace leaves along with the diagnosis. Dementia can rob an elder of self-awareness, and can cause more shuffling and less careful movements of the body. Statements about concern for self-awareness can also be a signal that your elder is undergoing the onset of some form of dementia. Some of these statements might include “I’m just not myself anymore”, “I used to be in here somewhere,” “what happened to the me that got things done?” and so on.
The most difficult part of aging seems to be the pain, lack of mobility and the way others behave as though you are no longer competent or capable. The difficulty with aging seems to be when your friends or family treat you as though you no longer have anything to say that is worth listening to. All of this can come from the fact that younger people move more quickly, speak more quickly, think more quickly and act more quickly in emergency and other situations. And just because this might be the reality – it doesn’t mean that your beloved elder is interpreting it that way.
Offering dignity and respect means taking the time required to make sure your elder does not feel like they are in the way, or a burden on us.
To help protect your elder from a fall while alone: Lifeline: 707-778-7883
To set up an in-home nursing program call: Sutter Home Health: 707-535-5600
You can also try using: St. Josephs Home Health: 707-206-9124
For FREE MEDICAL EQUIPMENT (such as walkers, canes and high-commodes): 707-347-9618
Grab bar and wheelchair ramp installations: Bob Cipolla: 707-321-2450
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.