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Falls at Home: Caring for Elderly Parents

When we are toddlers, we tend to fall over a lot, as we learn about balance and organising our bodies to stay upright. In middle age, we suffer few falls and those that do occur tend to be the result of tripping, slipping or suffering from an illness. As we age, we can find that we are far more likely to fall and to suffer more serious injuries when we do.

Why falls occur in elderly people

There are many reasons why so many elderly people experience falls, aside from the obvious hazards of slipping and tripping. As the body ages, the ability to balance reduces, along with the ability to react fast enough to avoid the fall. Elderly people naturally become susceptible to physiological decline, meaning that their vision, spatial awareness and ability to process messages passed from the inner ear to the brain, become compromised.

Another natural feature of old age is the loss of muscle strength and a tendency to have erratic blood pressure when standing up, creating temporary dizziness which affects balance. Add in typical problems related to ageing, such as osteoarthritis, increased infections and heart problems, and it is easy to see why more than 40 percent of people over the age of 80 suffer at least one fall each year.

Neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, can also exacerbate the problem, along with a range of drugs commonly prescribed to older people to combat health conditions. The more risk factors that an older person has, the more likely they are to suffer a debilitating and distressing fall.

Common effects of falling

Unlike young people who can get up and carry on as normal following a fall, older people can sustain serious injuries due to brittle, ageing bones and poorer muscle tone. The experience is disorientating, frightening and painful for an elderly person, who could suffer head injuries, soft tissue damage and fractures, particularly to the hip, pelvis, ribs, wrists and back.

An older person who lives alone may find themselves unable to get up once they have fallen, which brings further problems including the risk of hypothermia, pressure sores, kidney damage and muscle breakdown. They may miss taking essential medication, which compromises their health even further.

Even if there is someone present who can help an elderly parent following a fall, they are likely to live in fear of it happening again. The natural tendency is to avoid any form of exercise to limit the chances of another fall, which causes further physical decline. If your parent resists leaving their home, they could end up feeling isolated and depressed as a result.

Mikis’ care story

In this short video, Nick and Maro explain their reasons for choosing Elder live-in care. They discuss how live-in care has allowed Nick’s father Mikis to stay independent in his own home while making a new friend at the same time.

How to support an elderly relative following a fall

The first thing to do is to get your loved one thoroughly checked over by a doctor, to establish whether there was an undetected reason for the fall.

Next, you need to assess the home environment to make it as safe as possible. Remove any potential trip hazards, and add safety rails and grab handles in bathrooms. A stairlift is a good option, to avoid the risk of falling when going up or downstairs.

This is a good time to discuss whether specialist care at home might be a suitable option for your loved one. In-home care options can range from a couple of hours’ assistance once or twice a week, through to 24/7 care from a dedicated live-in carer. Local authorities will give a free assessment to anyone who requests it and may be able to provide some support for elderly care in the home. For live-in care, you will need to approach a private care company.

Live-in care

The great benefit of private live-in care is that your loved one can remain in their own home, which is very important for a generation accustomed to independent living. A live-in caregiver becomes a companion and friend as well as a vital helper and provides peace of mind for the whole family that there is someone on hand, day and night.

The familiarity of continuing to live in a much-loved home can be reassuring to an elderly person, who is already disturbed and frightened by the effects of falling. With the help and encouragement of a one-to-one caregiver, they may be persuaded to take gentle walks and participate in social events, which will keep the mind active and the body mobile.

Many private live-in carers have specialist training in Alzheimer’s and dementia care, providing you with additional reassurance if your loved one suffers from this kind of condition.

Although a fall can be a terrifying experience for an elderly person, it is important to encourage them to continue with their life as though the fall had never happened. Continuing to live in their own home can be particularly helpful in these circumstances, as it brings a degree of normality back to the person’s life, something that is crucial for their mental health.

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"Knowing how happy someone is with their care package makes all the hard work worthwhile!"

Katherine, Care Professional at Elder

Katherine Elder Carer

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