GRAY MATTERS
Notes, News & Musings on Elder Care

 

With Daylight Savings Time “Fall Back” arriving soon, now is a good time for a reminder of the importance of fall prevention.  In Knox County, more than 1,800 people aged 65 and older sought hospital care for falls in 2009 (the most current data), and approximately 19 people aged 65 or older die each year from their injuriesThe CDC estimates that 1 in 3 older adults fall each year but only half talk with healthcare providers about itFalls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal accidents in older adults, with around 2.3 million falls treated in the ER in 2010.

Not only are falls affecting the health of older adults, they are also affecting their pocketbooks.  In 2006, the direct medical cost of fall related injuries in older adults was $20 billion, and this number has risen with inflation and the aging of the Baby Boomer generation.  While Medicare and other supplemental insurances cover part of that cost, out of pocket medical expenses are many times a burden on the elderly and their caregivers.  After falls, elderly often see a decline in independence and may need personal care attendants or assisted living services, neither of which is covered by medical insurance.

What can be done?

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and this quote can also apply to fall prevention.  Take these steps to help reduce your risk:

  • Exercise regularly.  Remember to talk with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen.  Seek out free or low cost options through your local senior centersTai Chi has been found to be especially helpful in reducing falls and reducing serious injuries in people who do fall.
  • Talk with your healthcare providers, including pharmacists, about how medications may relate to fall risk.  Bring an up-to-date list of medications you are taking, including over the counter and herbal remedies, to each medical appointment.  One provider may prescribe a medication that would interact with a medicine another doctor prescribed.  When your healthcare providers have your full list of medications it can help to reduce the risk of adverse drug interactions and over medication.
  • Regularly have your vision checked, and follow recommendations that your doctor makes.  Eyeglasses are only helpful if you actually wear them.
  • Work with your family members to make your home safer.  Installing tools like grab bars in the bathroom and using tools like raised toilet seats can be helpful.  Reduce the clutter in your home, especially on floors and in walkways, to reduce risk of tripping over things.  If you care for grandchildren, work with them on the importance of putting away toys when not in use.  Wear shoes with good traction and add non-slip bathmats beside your tub.
  • If you are a caregiver, talk with healthcare providers to learn proper lifting techniques and ways to assist your loved one when transferring to different positions.
  • Use common sense.  When walking outside for exercise, let someone know where you will be, use trails, walk with a buddy, and stay in well lit areas.
  • Consider installing a service such as Lifeline to call for help if you fall and are unable to reach the phone.  If unable to subscribe to this service due to finances, some scholarships may be available.  If unwilling to subscribe to such a service, then making sure to carry a portable phone with you when walking through your home or outside. This can at least give you access to dialing 911 if you are conscious after falling.

What else?

  • Talk with your family about your wishes and preferences for long term care.  Unfortunately many older adults do not have conversations about long term care with family members.  Having a good understanding of your wishes gives family members guidance for your care.
  • If you do not already have one in place, talk with our office about powers of attorney documents.  Think you are too young to have these documents?  Remember that many of the cases that have garnered national attention about end of life decisions involve people who were in their 30s and 40s without these documents in place.
  • It is the desire of most of our clients to stay as independent as possible for as long as possible.  While it may sound paradoxical, sometimes the best way to do that is to get a little help with care.  Having someone there to help with transfers and walking may help to prevent injury.  Talk with your elder care coordinators about ways in which personal care attendants might be of help.

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