Aging Parents: Falls and Fall Prevention

Older people fall a lot. A researcher on a 2008 Oregon Research Institute study to prevent falls among older adults says “falls are a leading cause of mortality and morbidity among adults age 65 and older.”*

Over the weekend I learned via email that two pioneer teachers from the early days of our high school, now in their 90’s or nearly 90, had suffered broken hips. Mailing/email addresses, and telephone numbers were included so we could contact them. The email also suggested contacting Mr. W. (see my jump start post), who I visited while on vacation last month, and who the email said had fallen several times but suffered no injury. I share, in part, my email to the classmate:

I did see Mr. W and his wife. Hadn’t planned to stay more than 15 minutes, but ended up staying 2 hours. It was a good stay–talked about old times, some of our class members, I provided a bit of sworn-not-to-tell gossip and left with the satisfaction of seeing two 87-year-olds who have been through a lot together and are wonderfully grounded emotionally…each in his or her own way. I guess there have been more letters, cards, etc. than they can count. And with that, I think, comes reaffirmation of a life well lived, a life of purpose and contributions…..

On that visit I too learned that they fell “a lot.” Their home is well carpeted and “nothing broke.” I remember a friend of my mother’s in her 90’s telling me a similar story. This aging–no old, but young at heart–parent fell a lot on carpeted floors and “nothing broke.” She admitted she should use a cane but kept losing it in her home–“and I keep 3 canes and can never find a one,” she giggled.

It drove her adult children “crazy,” but they were firm in their conviction of empowering aging parents and not undermining confidence. They also knew that continued discussion on the subject of falling accomplished nothing. But they succeeded in having her wear a pendant with a button she could push for help if she fell. They decided this was better than destroying what was a wonderful relationship. And because she was a rational, old parent she knew the pendant was a good idea. In fact she pushed that button quite often and let the paramedics know which door was never locked so they could easily come and pick her up! (This also drove her adult children “crazy” but no harm ever came.)

It’s probably safe to say that every person over the age of 70 knows of an aging person who has fallen and, unlike a child’s fall, has sustained more than just a skinned knee. Since bones thin with aging, they are weaker and can break more easily. And healing is slower in older people. Since fear of falling and breaking a bone is very high up on the list of older people’s worries, shouldn’t this also concern adult children?

I realize that adding the specific information and at least one creative idea aimed at helping aging parents reduce the risk of falls and fractures will necessitate this post being too long. Thus, Saturday’s post will focus on some specifics that I believe are good to know–for both adult children and their aging parents.

*Li, F., Harmer, P., Glasgow, R., Mack, K.A., Sleet, D., Fisher, K. J., Kohn, M.A., Millet, L.M., Mead, J., Xu, J., Lin, M.L., Yang, T., Sutton, B., & Tompkins, Y. (2008). Translation of an effective Tai Chi intervention into a community-based falls prevention program. American Journal of Public Health, 98(7), 1195-1198.

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