Monday, March 24, 2008

Assistive Devices that Prevent Falls

Each year, thousands of older adults fall and this often results in injury, including broken bones. A broken bone for the elderly can be the start of more serious problems. These accidents can lead to a lasting disability and loss of independence.

Aging in itself does not cause falls. There are however, a number of chronic health problems that can result in falls. For example, diabetes and heart disease, circulation, thyroid and nervous system problems all may affect balance. Some medications may make a person dizzy. Eye problems or alcohol affect steadiness. Any of these may make a fall more likely.

Osteoporosis makes bones thin and easier to break. This disease can make any fall more dangerous and a major reason for broken bones in women and men as they age. When a person's bones become fragile, even a minor fall can cause one or more bones to break. People with osteoporosis must be very careful to avoid falls.

Accidents seldom "just happen". Taking care of health by exercising and getting regular eye exams and physicals may help reduce the change of falling. Getting rid of tripping hazards in the home and wearing non-skid shoes also may help. To reduce the chances of breaking a bone in the event of a fall, one should be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D each day.

Use of assistive devices can prevent harmful falls. These devices include canes, walkers, and reachers. A physical or occupational therapist can help your loved one decide which devices might be helpful and how to use them safely. Ask the doctor for a referral for an evaluation.

Canes can help one fell steadier when walking especially when in unfamiliar places or where walkways are uneven. Different types of canes are available. They can be purchased from medical suppliers, local pharmacies, and even stores that provide equipment for mountain climbers.

There are many styles of cane handles. Some have grips made of foam or that fit the shape of the hand. There are canes that fold up, have adjustable lengths, and even those with spikes on the bottom to aid walking on icy surfaces. Sand or salt spread on icy surfaces around the home will help reduce the risk of a fall.

Be sure the length of the cane fits your loved one. The elbow should ne at a comfortable angle when using the cane. A cane that is too short may make the person unsteady. A cane that is too long is harder to use. A physical therapist can help your loved one learn how to use the new cane properly. Some users like to decorate their canes to make them seem less utilitarian.

For a person who is at risk for falling, a doctor or physical therapist might suggest using a walker, which aids balance by giving a wide base of support. Different types of walkers are available. Some have two wheels so the walker can't roll away. These work well for those who need to put weight on the walker when walking. Other walkers have four wheels and brakes for going down inclines. These can sometimes roll out of control, so be sure that your loved one knows how to use the walker safely.

There are many accessories to make walkers more convenient. A basket, tray, or pouch can be added to carry items from place to place. These add-ons can be purchased or, less expensively, fashioned at home. For example, a child's bicycle basket fastened safely on the front of the walker makes a handy carrier. Homemade pouches made ofpretty fabric can drape nicely over the front bar and can be fastened with simple snaps, buttons, or Velcro.

Rechers are special grabbing tools that can be purchased at many hardware and most medical supply stores. A reacher, or grabber, also can help to prevent falls. This simple tool lets one take, or replace, lightweight items from high shelves. By using one, a person can avoid standing on a stool or chair, which may be unstable. The reacher also can be used to pick up dropped items. Many are equipped with a magnet on the tip for picking up small metal objects.

Cordless or cell telephones also can help prevent falls. Encourage your loved one to carry the phone from room to room. When it rings, he or she won't have to rush to answer it. Not rushing could avert a harmful fall. These phones are also handy if your loved one is lying down. Rising suddenly to answer a fall can cause a drop in blood pressure and result in dizziness.

If your loved one is often alone at home, suggest that she or he check out a home monitoring service. Usually, the person wears a button on a chain around the neck. In the event of a fall or emergency, the person just pushed the button to alert the service. Emergency staff is then sent to the home. You can find local "medical alarm" services in the phone book. Be warned, however, that these systems often are not covered by Medicare or medical insurance.