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Prell: What should I do if my dad is falling a lot?

Jennifer Prell
Jennifer Prell

My dad lives at home with my mom. They’re pretty independent but my dad has fallen three times in the last few months. Why is he falling so much? Should he stay home? Help!

These are questions I've gotten from a reader, one a lot of people with aging parents ask themselves.

Many factors lead to people over the age of 65 to fall more often. As we age balance changes, and when you combine that with other health issues, falling becomes a frequent occurrence. The following are some common reasons people fall.

1. Lifestyle and household hazards: The risk for falling increases when clutter takes over the home. Add in poor lighting or wearing regular socks, it’s a recipe for disaster.

We often see people who have laundry on a lower level, forcing them to exert themselves carrying heavy laundry up and down staircases. These are some prime home hazard examples and there are many more.

2. Surgery: Going straight home after surgery is appealing, but without assistance from a professional rehabilitation facility, things can go bad quickly. When older patients are weak and experiencing pain, they often become immobile for a long time.

3. Disease and chronic illness: Parkinson's, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s diseases; Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS for short; diabetes; and even arthritis are all debilitating conditions. The body quickly weakens and becomes less stable. Neuropathy, nerve damage, numbness and pain make it difficult to feel environmental hazards or navigate the home safely.

4. Impaired vision: Even the strongest older adult can become a fall risk due to impaired vision. Trouble seeing obstacles are almost assuredly a fall waiting to happen.

5. Medications: Side effects of medications can include dizziness, sleepiness, and high or low blood pressure, impacting senses and therefore creating balance challenges.

6. Physically weak: As we age most people become less physical, exercising less, and “retiring” from team sports we enjoyed in our younger years. As our muscles atrophy our core softens, and falls occur more often. Failing to exercise, stretch and do some sort of physical activity daily will quickly weaken the entire body.

Falling is also a potential sign that living at home may not be the safest choice. Evaluate the home for trip hazards and review daily tasks; a professional health assessment should also be performed by a physician. Medications should also reviewed with the primary physician, and a carefully weighed decision made from there.

• Jennifer Prell is president of Elderwerks Educational Services, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization offering complimentary information, referrals and guidance to older adults, seniors and their families for senior living, care, support and benefits. Visit elderwerks.org or call 855-462-0100 for personal assistance. Email questions to help@elderwerks.org.

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