10 Questions to Ask An Older Adult About Falling
Don't be surprised if your parent is reluctant to talk about her falls (or suspected falls), fearing that the consequences could threaten her independence. Even so, it's important to get this issue out on the table. By getting as much information as possible, you can provide your parent's physician with critical information that will help him decide how to identify her risk for falling and develop a plan to help prevent falls.
If you suspect she's fallen, be sure to ask these questions:
Where were you when you fell?
If you know the answer, you can investigate the area of the fall for any safety hazards such as inadequate lighting, a sloped surface, or a throw rug.
What were you doing before you fell?
If your parent was bending down at the time, for example, that could be valuable information for her doctor to know when checking her strength and balance.
Did you lose consciousness before you fell?
Losing consciousness can signal dehydration, infection, or an irregular heartbeat, among other health problems.
Why do you think you fell?
Knowing this could provide valuable information that isn't necessarily observable (such as dizziness) but that would help your parent's doctor decide what tests to perform.
Have you fallen before? If so, what were you doing right before the fall?
Older people who have fallen more than once are at greater risk of falls, and your parent's doctor can determine if there's a pattern that precipitates a fall.
Do you worry about falling?
If your parent fears falling, you should ask her doctor to recommend a community-based program that deals with reducing that fear. Senior centers and hospitals often offer such classes with names like "Fit and Fall Proof" or "Staying Active and Independent for Life" (SAIL). Tai Chi, a martial art and form of exercise that helps with strength and balance, also reduces fear of falling in older people.
Could you get up after you fell?
If your parent couldn't get up by herself and lives alone, it's a good idea to look into getting a medical alert device that she could wear and activate. Also, if her doctor knows that she couldn't get up, he can investigate the cause and include remedies for it in a treatment plan that might include a referral to a physical therapist or occupational therapist, who can work with her on how to get up if a fall occurs.
Do certain movements make you feel unsteady on your feet?
Such information could help the doctor identify weakness and balance problems and help him decide whether to refer your mother to a physical therapist for appropriate exercises or to an occupational therapist to help choose the best cane or walker and figure out how to make her home safer.
Did you feel confused after you fell?
If so, it could indicate a new or unrelated health problem.
Are you able to walk a block and climb stairs?
If your parent is unable to walk that far or climb stairs, her doctor may suggest she see a physical therapist or join an exercise class that builds strength and endurance.
Helen W. Lach. "Fear of falling: An emerging public health problem." Generations, Winter 2002-03.
"Patient handout after the fall: a guide for patients and families." American Geriatrics Society.
Medical history form, American Geriatrics Society.
Eldercare at Home, Chapter 4: Bone Weakness, American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging
"My Falls-Free Plan," Washington State Department of Health, Injury and Violence Prevention Program.
Falls Evaluation: Initial Visit, American Geriatrics Society.
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