Falls Pose Dangerous Risks for Seniors

Provision Living at Columbia Educates Residents, Families On Dangers of Falling

When most people fall, they simply pick themselves up, dust themselves off and keep going. For the elderly, however, falls can have devastating consequences. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three people age 65 and over will fall each year, and less than half of them will report this to their families or to their physicians. Studies also show that falling once actually doubles the chance of falling again.

Kim Fanning, executive director at Provision Living Assisted Living and Memory Care in Columbia, MO, is well aware of the risks associated with falling for seniors. She, along with Rhonda Jones, director of nursing for the community, quietly evaluates residents during daily activities as a way to gauge mobility, balance and other signs that a fall could be eminent.

“Both Rhonda and myself are masters-prepared nurses,” says Fanning, “This advanced training allows us more insight into the overall health and wellbeing of the seniors that we care for, and creates an environment where we can discreetly monitor everyone’s daily progress or decline and adjust our strategies and care plans as needed.”

One of Fanning’s biggest goals is educating families and caregivers in the Columbia area about the risks of falling. “Problems with balance and mobility are very important to recognize,” advises Fanning, “because for some seniors, they’re one fall away from a life changing event.”

Though many falls do not cause injuries, one in five falls will cause serious injuries such as head trauma and broken bones. After such injuries, many seniors find it difficult to live on their own and develop a fear of falling. This develops into a vicious cycle where seniors become weak and frail through lack of movement and decreased muscle strength, putting them at an even higher risk of falling.

Fanning advocates that families pay special attention to balance-related issues, trouble standing and even vision problems. These are among the risk factors for falling and when found in combination they can indicate that it may be the right time to begin evaluating long-term care options.

“We eat all meals with residents in the dining room,” reports Fanning. “This is not only a good way to build rapport and learn more about them, but it helps us see issues before they develop into a crisis situation. For instance, if a resident has trouble rising from their chair after dinner, we can investigate why that is happening work on improving their strength and balance. It also helps us better assess their needs and make accommodations and adjustments in their care plan.”

Daily exercise classes at the community are designed to keep seniors moving to improve strength, resilience and balance. Legacy Healthcare Services, a contracted, on-site therapy and rehabilitation service ensures that each resident has access to physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and a host of other wellness services.

Legacy’s clinical programs are designed to create an environment of familiarity and trust, and therapists are trained to recognize subtle changes in independence, before they lead to a fall or injury. Provision Living also ensures that licensed nurses are available on all shifts, seven days a week.

Fanning has advice for families who are caring for aging loved ones who may be at risk for falling, but aren’t ready yet to commit to a long-term care plan. “It’s important to remember that the safety of your parent is what comes first. Once they’ve fallen or broken a hip their quality of life can decrease rapidly.”

A recent study by the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that elderly patients age 70 and older are three-times more likely to die from a ground-level fall. Elderly patients are also hospitalized longer and are less able to function on their own after being discharged.

One of the most important things that at-home caregivers can do, says Fanning, is to educate themselves on the risks faced by the elderly and learn to identify potential life-threatening changes in mobility, balance and coordination. Even simple things like installing grab bars inside of a shower or tub, having annual eye exams and wearing appropriate footwear can go a long way in reducing fall risks.

“Many people wait until their mom or dad is in such poor condition that they cannot care for them in their homes any longer,” admits Fanning. “It’s important to talk to your parents before there is even an issue. When you plan ahead, it becomes their decision and they are less likely to feel forced into leaving their home. Everyone wants to have a choice – to have a say in things, and starting that conversation is the first step toward a successful outcome.”

If you are concerned about your loved ones risk for falling, or if a family member is already in need of care, Provision Living at Columbia welcomes the opportunity to help your family understand your care options. Please call (573) 234-1091 for more information or to schedule a visit.

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