Falls are something emergency room staff ask about and want to prevent, because mobility problems in elderly patients is critical to independent living.
AARP’s recent article entitled “Mobility Problems: What to Do When a Loved One Has Trouble Getting Around” says that if you start seeing your parent or spouse is having trouble standing up and walking around, here are some steps you can take to help.
Once you begin the conversation, making a medical appointment is the next big step. A physician can perform a strength, gait, and balance evaluation, or order a bone-density scan. The doctor also looks at blood pressure and heart rate after standing, and underlying conditions. Hearing and vision should also be examined. The doctor may suggest ways to improve function. She may write a prescription for physical therapy (which Medicare often covers). She may also talk about surgery options or medicines that might help.
Pharmacy review. The doctor also can review the patient’s prescribed and over-the-counter medications to see if anything may have the side effects of dizziness or sleepiness that could cause falls.
Eye exam. The right prescription glasses help people see where they’re going. Researchers have also found that procedures, like cataract surgery, can help older people reduce falls. It’s a common fix since one in five adults older than 65 has a cataract.
Diet. Dehydration is common among the elderly and can lead to weakness. Make sure that your love one stays hydrated and limits alcohol use. You should also check their vitamin D level. If it is low, the doctor might suggest they take vitamin D every day and to improve bone density, eating calcium-rich foods, like milk and yogurt.
Exercise. Research shows that even upping your physical activity a small amount every day can have a significant impact on older people’s physical function and also prevent them from becoming disabled. For example, just walking 10 to 15 minutes at a comfortable pace, every day, seems to help prevent mobility decline. You can also add strength training or tai chi. Classes can help to build up muscle and maintain balance.
Mobility devices. If a loved one has mobility problems, and function is unable to be restored, think about using a cane or walker. Medicare will cover basic walkers.
Safety. In the home, you can make things safer, by eliminating clutter and taking other precautions. Here are a few tips:
- Remove trip hazards from stairs;
- Repair loose railings;
- Remove or secure loose rugs;
- Install task lighting;
- Install a nightlight in the bathroom; and
- Watch for wet floors.
Medical Alert Device. You can also get a medical alert device to wear on your wrist or around your neck. The devices can be extremely reassuring.
Reference: AARP (Nov. 6, 2019) “Mobility Problems: What to Do When a Loved One Has Trouble Getting Around”