Q: My mom is about to turn 80. Although she’s in relatively good shape, I’ve heard so many horror stories about how devastating a fall can be for someone her age that I worry constantly. How do I know if she’s at risk?
Answer: According to the Centers for Disease Control, falls are the leading cause of injuries in adults ages 65 and older, and one in three older adults has a fall each year. Falls for someone your mother’s age can result in serious injuries and make continuing to live independently more difficult, if not impossible. However, you do not have to accept falls as an inevitable part of your mother’s future. One of the best ways to reduce her chances of falling is to be on the lookout for certain risk factors and then do what you can to reduce them.
The first thing to consider is your mother’s overall physical health. Generally, our muscles lose strength as we get older, which can have a negative effect on balance. The decline in strength is often the result of a lack of physical activity. Helping your mom get some form of exercise can go far in helping her remain fit and strong enough to avoid falls. There are many organizations in Forsyth County that offer exercise programs and activities designed to accommodate the various fitness levels of older adults. You can find many of them on the events calendar at seniorservicesinc.org/events.
Impaired senses can also be a factor in increased fall risks. Diminished vision related to cataracts, macular degeneration or glaucoma, for example, could potentially place your loved one at greater risk.
Changes in depth perception sometimes make navigating stairs or spotting hazards more difficult. Regular eye exams and keeping glasses prescriptions up to date can help older adults avoid trip hazards related to changes in vision. Hearing loss can also play a role in increasing the risk of falls. Problems hearing can make it difficult to be fully aware of one’s environment, which could lead to tripping over a pet or some other hazard.
Remain aware of all the medications your mother takes regularly. Certain medications have been known to contribute to falls. Many medications that are commonly used to treat blood pressure, lack of sleep and mood disorders can cause dizziness, drowsiness or blurred vision. It’s important to read and understand all of the potential side effects listed in the information that comes with a new prescription and/or refill. Be certain to ask the doctor or pharmacist about over-the-counter medications, as well. You want to be aware of any that are known to cause dizziness, lightheadedness or unsteadiness.
These are just a few of the risk factors you should be mindful of. If you believe that your mother could be a fall risk, it might ease your worry if you were to contact her primary care physician and ask for a home health agency referral in order to have a fall-risk assessment scheduled for her.
Q: My dad was evacuated here from the coast in preparation for Hurricane Florence. We were unable to bring his motorized wheelchair because of limited time and space. Where can we rent one locally?
Answer: More than 10,000 N.C. residents were evacuated to shelters during Hurricane Florence, and many others moved to safer locations and stayed with family or friends.
Although the rain finally ended, the storm left millions — if not billions — of dollars’ worth of destruction in its wake. Many coastal residents remain displaced and are trying to bring a sense of normalcy to their new surroundings until the time comes when they can safely return to their homes.
In the midst of a sudden evacuation, space and time are often limited, and personal safety becomes the priority. During such situations, items — even items of importance — must sometimes be left behind. It is hard to go without the material things we rely on. It is especially difficult for older North Carolinians who have been left without access to the medical equipment they use daily, such as hospital beds, standard/and or motorized wheelchairs, lift chairs and walkers.
Although not providing the peace of mind that having his own wheelchair would give him, a wheelchair that would certainly be serviceable can be rented locally, as can most of the medical equipment your father might need during his temporary stay with you. Senior Services’ Help Line can provide you with a list of places in Forsyth County that rent medical equipment. Email the Help Line at email@example.com or call 336-724-2040 for more information.
AgeWise is a weekly column compiled by staff of Senior Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Winston-Salem. If you have a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Senior Services, 2895 Shorefair Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27105.