Twenty two minutes.
Every twenty-two minutes someone over age 65 dies as a result of a fall, and this is almost double what that figure was just ten years ago. These are called severe falls, and it is not that the individual dies at the time of fall as much as they will succumb to other complications subsequent to the fall. Because just as the incidence of falls has increased, the incidence of heart disease, stroke, arthritis, diabetes and other chronic conditions has increased among older adults. With the increasing numbers of medications that older adults take for their medical conditions, there also is an increased risk for confusion, delirium or imbalance as side effects of the prescriptions.
We also are seeing an epidemic of severe – but not fatal – falls, nearly 2.5 million of which result in trips to the emergency room in America each year. This is fifty percent more than just ten years ago, and the incidence is double for women what it is for men, because women are living longer. So what can caregivers do to help their older loved ones living safely and independently?
Take your cue from some innovative senior residential facilities around the country. In past postings I have talked about making lights within reach of bedside for older loved ones who may be getting out of bed during the night or in the early morning hours of darkness. There are now new ways to install floor lighting around the bed or along the usual paths from bed that are motion-activated. As your older loved one sits up in bed and their feet reach toward the floor, lighting strips like those on jet airline aisles are activated and light the way to a safe trip to the bath.
In the bath, motion sensors turn on enough lighting to make navigating what can be the most dangerous room in the house much clearer and safer. One other innovation being introduced into senior residences is color contrast seats for the commode. Instead of the interior design rule of matching colors, some residences are making the toilet rings black against a white commode to provide an easier contrast for those whose eyesight may not be as sharp as it once was. And grab bars in the bath as well as along any halls and stairways to give a ready assist to older loved ones who may be sufficiently willful to ignore the doctor’s orders to use a cane or walker. And who said floors can only be made of wood or tile? Interior decorators are coming out with attractive new floor coverings that absorb shock as a last line of defense against fatal falls. Consider also tasteful color contrasts to help older eyes distinguish step treads on the stairways as well as paths along halls.
For anyone who recalls my “mitten test” for household door handles, switches, etc., you will like this suggestion. Get a pair of cheap sunglasses and rub Vaseline over the outside of the lenses. As you walk through the house you will have a much greater appreciation for what older vision – particularly vision impaired by cataracts – can literally look like. Add six pair of socks to your feet and you will be able to take a walk in their eyes, instead of a walk in their shoes.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Twenty two minutes.