Of the 40 million plus family caregivers in the U.S. caring for a loved one, a large percentage specifically care for an aging parent over 65. Caregiving tasks may vary from one caregiver to another, but when it comes to managing the health of an elderly parent, they often include:
- Transportation to appointments
- Managing health insurance claims/bills
- Refilling prescriptions
- Planning and preparing meals
- Light housekeeping
- Assisting with dressing, bathing, laundry
- Running errands
- Assisting with light exercise
Depending on your loved one’s health condition, you might engage in more skilled nursing duties as well like dressing wounds and pressure ulcers, physical therapy exercises, and administering medicine. A primary consideration for any caregiver helping out an older parent, however, is preventing falls.
Falls can lead to serious injury, from head trauma to hip fractures, and are often the reason seniors have to move from their own home to a nursing facility. Caregivers play one of the most important roles in keeping seniors safe and fall-free. Don’t miss these expert tips:
Know the Facts
While your parent might have retained their full mobility and don’t seem to have balance or coordination problems yet, the fact remains that 1 out of 4 adults over 65 will experience a fall every year – many in their own homes. The National Council on Aging shares additional stark statistics including that falls are the leading cause of fatal injury among older adults with roughly 3 seniors dying from a fall every minute.
The hard truth is that reflexes, vision, and strength all deteriorate, if even slightly, as your loved one ages. Being proactive with taking fall precautions before your aging parent starts to experience mobility or flexibility problems increases their chances of avoiding debilitating falls in the future.
Daily physical activity in the form of moderate-intensity exercise is a must for strengthening your loved one’s balance and coordination skills, as well as toning muscles and maintaining healthy bone density. Power, stability, and flexibility will all play significant roles in helping your loved one catch and correct their body position when they trip or lose their balance (so they don’t fall).
Not only will exercise benefit your older parent, but it is key to caregiver health and happiness as well. The physical and emotional toll caregiving can take can be overwhelming. Exercise helps to reduce stress, boost mood, increase strength and confidence, and gives you an engaging bonding activity to take part in with your loved one.
Whether your aging parent lives with you, in their own room in an assisted living facility, or is aging in place, clearing the home environment of trip hazards and fall obstacles is a regular must-do. Trip hazards can include everything from cords on the ground to curled up carpet corners, slick surfaces in the bathroom, and large pieces of furniture that are difficult to get around.
In addition to clearing clutter, making simple upgrades to the living environment can help prevent falls as well. These include updating lighting so the brightness of bulbs is consistent from room to room, and so light switches are plentiful and accessible. Installing grab bars in the bathroom and railings on porches and stairways will go far in providing support and stability to your loved one in trickier environments as well. And placing fall mats by couches and beds, especially for a parent who has experienced a fall already, can help mitigate the severity of injuries should they fall again.
Do you have a good idea of how your loved one’s medical condition might increase their risk of falling? Chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s can inhibit coordination and balance which can lead to a fall, while Alzheimer’s and dementia can cause disorientation which might induce a fall. Other conditions like high blood pressure may be treated with medicine which can cause dizziness or fatigue, which may also increase risk for falling. The list is seemingly endless.
Having a good handle on the prognosis for your loved one’s health condition and what future degeneration might look like, especially for progressive diseases, as well as knowing all the side effects of medicine your loved one is taking can all help prevent injuries from falls. Keep a dialogue going with your parents’ medical providers about these concerns, and don’t forget to get your loved one’s vision checked regularly. Impaired vision, including loss of peripheral vision and depth perception as well as trouble seeing at night, can be a leading risk factor for falling.
Baby Boomers, the second largest generation,, will all age into the 65+ bracket over the next 13 years. With preventative knowledge about falling, their children will be well-equipped for caregiving when the time comes.