Help seniors avoid falling this autumn

September 3, 2020

You might say that a fall motivated Kelly Schroeder to pursue a career working with seniors.

Schroeder, the director of clinical services for Community Care, a local nonprofit and expert in long term care, had a grandmother who fell and never truly recovered. As a result, her grandmother found herself dependent for the rest of her life, but it was totally preventable.

As our loved ones grow older, there is a natural decline in some of their abilities. They may begin to slow down. Their vision may not be what it once was. You may find they do not hear you as well as they used to. Many of these changes are an inevitable part of aging.

While our aging loved ones may have trouble accepting this new reality, we know what we are seeing with our own eyes. What we may not see so clearly is the great risk that comes as a result of these changes: falling. While declines in strength, or eyesight, or hearing may be a normal part of aging, falling is not.

“A fall could be the difference between living at home independently and not living at home and depending on other people,” Schroeder said. “The thing about falls, there are so many factors that contribute to it, there’s so much we can do, it’s not a given that you’re going to get old and fall.”

After age 65, falling becomes a public health concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four Americans 65 and older falls every year, and one out of five falls causes a serious injury, such as a head trauma, or a fracture. Falls cost the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $50 billion annually. But it does not have to be this way.

Organizations like Community Care dedicate the month of September to raise awareness about the seriousness of falling, especially for seniors, and how it impacts their quality of life. This year, Falls Prevention Awareness Week is Sept. 21-25.

For more than 40 years, Community Care has helped its members – vulnerable elders and adults with disabilities – live independently within the community. A key element of living independently is protecting oneself from falling by reducing the risk of falls. That is why staff are trained to work with members to help them avoid falling.

There is a lot that goes into to helping seniors avoid falls: balance, exercise, diet, medications, underlying health issues.

In addition to this, occupational therapists working in Community Care’s Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), make annual visits to members’ homes to asses what, if any, risks may be present that could cause a fall, said Kevin Konieczka, Community Care’s rehab therapy supervisor.

Discussing the seriousness of falls with a loved one can be tricky, but it is necessary part of caring for a loved one who is aging. Seniors may be reluctant to admit that they have fallen or to accept the fact that they might fall in the future, because of a sense of pride, concerns about privacy, or the fear of no longer being able to live in their home. Falling, or the fear of falling, can dramatically reduce a senior’s quality of life.

“If we can be proactive in our approach, people certainly have fewer falls and have a better mindset,” Konieczka said. “The mental and emotional component is very important.”

For more information about falls prevention, visit:

The National Council on Aging
https://www.ncoa.org/healthy-aging/fallsprevention/

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/index.html

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services:
https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/injuryprevention/falls/index.html