Last time we talked about two types of fall risks—environmental and medical—and how to avoid environmental risks. Today we’ll talk about different medical risks and how to avoid them.
It’s shockingly common for older adults to fall because they can’t see well enough. Seniors should get their vision checked annually, since deterioration can sometimes be so gradual they don’t notice it. If tests do indicate a vision problem, take care of it as soon as possible. If your parent can’t see, they’re at higher risk for falls. Make sure their prescription is up to date and they’re actually wearing their glasses. Keeping their home sufficiently lit will also help seniors with deteriorating vision.
Some seniors experience a drop in blood pressure when they stand up, making them feel dizzy and off-balance. This is called “orthostatic hypotension,” and it’s a common cause of falls. With this condition, sitting-to-standing blood pressure can plunge as much as 10 to 20 points. Remind your parent to stand up slowly and hold onto something for support as they get up. If you are concerned about orthostatic hypotension, ask your loved one’s doctor to perform blood pressure tests while sitting and standing.
Keep in mind that blood pressure medication is also associated with higher rates of falling. If your mom or dad is taking blood pressure meds, speak with their doctor about the risk of falls.
Besides blood pressure medication, other drugs are also associated with higher fall rates. If your loved one is taking any of these medications, speak with their doctor about their fall risk and any possible alternatives. These drugs include:
- Anti-anxiety medications: Ativan, Valium, Xanax, etc.
- Sleeping pills: Ambien, Lunesta, etc.
- Mood stabilizers and seizure meds: Depakote, Neurontin, etc.
- Antidepressants: Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, etc.
- Over-the-counter sleeping aids: Benadryl, Tylenol PM, etc.
- Muscle relaxants: Flexaril, Ditropan, Detrol, etc.
- Nausea and motion sickness meds: Penergan, Antivert, etc.
- Medications for prostate health: Flomax, Hyrin, Cardura, etc.
- Diabetes medication: virtually all except Metformin
As you can see, many of the common drugs seniors take are on this list. Most of time, the benefits of the medication in question will outweigh the risk of falls. However, it’s good to be informed. Review your parent’s medications with their doctor to see if there are alternatives or if a lower dose is possible.
Normal aging can cause weakness and loss of balance in adults. Some exercise programs can improve balance in seniors and help them become stronger. Look into Tai Chi, dance, and yoga classes for seniors in your area. Your parent can also benefit from strength training or physical therapy. Regular exercise has a host of other health benefits as well, so talk with your parent’s doctor about what type of exercise is most appropriate.
Various medical conditions can cause weakness, loss of balance, or both. If your loved one has any of these, speak with his or her doctor about mitigating the risk of falls. Conditions that carry increased risk are:
- Certain cardiovascular diseases
- Chronic pain
- Foot disorders
- Low Vitamin D levels
- Parkinson’s Disease
With some medical conditions, it’s impossible to avoid fall risks. After speaking with your parent’s doctor about all possible risks and working to lessen or completely eliminate the ones that are modifiable, you may need to accept that a certain level of risk will always be there.
The risk of falling, even among perfectly healthy individuals, rises as you age. The chance of sustaining a serious injury from a fall also increases with age. If your parent or loved one lives alone, it’s important to implement some measures so they can call for help if they fall and can’t get up.
An emergency call button, which can be worn on a lanyard around the neck, is vital for seniors who live alone. There are also home sensors you can install that can alert you if your loved one falls. If your parent with dementia is prone to wandering and may fall, you can use a bed alarm to alert you or his caregiver that he left his bed.
After your parent or loved one falls, it’s important to have their doctor screen them for any new illness that could have contributed to the fall. Testing for blood pressure changes, gait abnormalities, and vitamin D and iron levels can be helpful to pinpoint reasons for the fall.