When dealing with aging parents we are made to face, head on, the difficulties associated with failing physical or mental faculties. One of the more remarkable changes that take place is the role reversal that we as adult children go through going from those who were cared for by mom and dad to those who are now trying to quickly learn how to care for mom and dad. This is especially true when a parent reacts to failing health or mobility by either going into denial or by actively resisting the acceptance of care and the new reality. My mother was a tough customer who resisted accepting care and made our family’s efforts to care for her more difficult to say the least. Her role in the past had been as commander in chief of our family on all social matters who made decisions, usually correctly, and expected them to be carried out without delay. Mom used to say that she just wanted to be consulted. One of my brothers made the observation that what she really wanted was simply to be obeyed. As a
result, when the role reversal began, she did not take easily to her children wanting to “put our noses” into her affairs and her life as she saw it.
However, in spite of the difficulties caused by her progressive dementia there were some things that were going well. Rather than only focusing on the difficulties, it is better to see our aging parents as a composite, as we all are, of strengths and weaknesses. Some great advice that my
brother and I received from a geriatrician we consulted with was to develop or at least to try to maintain her strengths and to work on shoring up and finding solutions for her weaknesses. One of mom’s great strengths was that she had always been an active person. She was actually in pretty good physical shape, at 86. This was partly the result of favorable genetics helped by long walks that she took almost daily on the grounds in the complex where she lived. Since falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults we decided that this, for her was an area of relative strength and one that we wanted to develop and maintain as long as possible. We found out that preventing falls is a combination of maintaining physical strength, keeping balance and mobility through exercise (and physical therapy if needed) and eliminating or remediating hazards in the home.
It is a good idea to make a list of medications, both prescription and over the counter, to take with you on your next visit to your doctor. There are medications that by themselves or in combination with others can cause side effects that increase the risk of falling. You and your doctor together can decide whether the benefits of certain sedatives and antidepressants are worth the increased risk of falls or whether there are other ways of achieving the desired results. These are not easy decisions but they are a good place to start. You may decide the benefit of the medication is worth the added risk of falls, but being aware of and perhaps discussing the risk, may make you, or the person at risk, more careful and may motivate the use of canes, walkers or other aides.
Something else to discuss with your doctor is whether eye or ear disorders may be affecting your ability to see or affecting your balance. Tell the doctor whether you experience numbness, dizziness or pain and ask him or her to check your gait, muscle strength and balance. If your physical strength has fallen to the point where you are afraid to exercise, the doctor can prescribe physical therapy by a licensed physical therapist who will create a custom made program to safely help you regain strength, balance and correct gait problems. Medicare will usually cover physical therapy prescribed by a physician.
Other things you can do to prevent falls are to make certain that your footwear consists of good shoes with soles that will not slip easily. Bare feet, socks and floppy slippers may be more comfortable but they increase the risk of falling. Finally, look around the home and clear electrical cords, coffee tables and plant stands from high traffic parts of the home. Loose carpets or rugs can be secured by double sided tape or by tacking to the floor. You may also decide to remove loose rugs entirely. Have light sources close to the bed for when you need to get up in the middle of the night. Another good idea is to have night lights in the bedroom and bathroom. The bathroom is of particular concern since late-night-visit falls in the bathroom with its hard surfaces, are particularly dangerous. A safer bathroom will have a raised toilet seat with armrests, hand rails and grab bars, a sturdy shower chair and a hand held shower nozzle.
Focusing on, and thereby reducing falls risks, is a major step forward. Once a home has had hazards removed, aides such as grab bars installed and some sort of exercise routine established, falls can be reduced. Any effort you make to prevent falls wherever possible will pay off in a major way.
Give us a call if you would like to discuss any issues related to senior care. We are not professional counselors, but we have had a great deal of experience and many problems that may be new to you are issues that we and the families that we serve have dealt with before. You are under no obligation to use our services. This is what we do and if we cannot help you we are happy to point you in the right direction and assist in any way we can.