How can I help my 82-year-old mother overcome her fear of falling?
My mother, who is basically healthy, is afraid of falling because her neighbor fell and ended up in a nursing home. Since she's afraid, she doesn't move around as much. How can I help her get over her fear?
You're right to be concerned about your mother: A fear of falling is actually a risk factor for falling. In your mother's case, her fear has led her to restrict her activities, which could lead to a decline in her physical abilities, putting her at greater risk of falling.
To help your mother overcome her fears, first find out her specific concerns and then help her understand the real risks. I'd suggest that the two of you discuss her fears with her doctor and have him evaluate her risk for falling. He can then recommend any treatments or changes in treatment that might be called for.
If your mother has any difficulty walking, for example, her doctor might recommend physical therapy or instruct her on the use of a walker or cane, as well as make other recommendations for improving her strength and ability to walk and do other activities. Working with a professional, such as a physical or occupational therapist, can help your mother regain her confidence.
If your mother takes medication that makes her feel off-balance or dizzy, her doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative that doesn't have those side effects.
I'd also suggest that you look into classes that specifically deal with fear of falling among the elderly. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to find out whether fall-prevention programs are available nearby.
A Matter of Balance, for example, is a class that uses a combination of discussion, video presentations, and exercises to help seniors build up confidence. (Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for more information.)
OASIS is a senior program that offers fall-prevention classes in 26 cities. You can find out more about OASIS and fall prevention at www.oasisnet.org.
If your mother lives alone and is worried about what she would do if she fell, you can put together a plan of action based on her concerns. If she doesn't have a cell phone, consider getting her one that she could carry at all times. Also find out whether someone who lives nearby -- a family member, neighbor, or community volunteer -- could check on her regularly.
You might also want to get her set up with a medical alert system -- a necklace or bracelet that she could wear at all times that will enable her to summon emergency help with the push of a button. Ask your mother's doctor whether he can recommend a brand.
Remind your mother that she's right to be careful about doing things that could put her at risk for falling, such as climbing on a chair to change a light bulb or using a stepping stool to reach food in her pantry. If you can, rearrange her storage so that the items she needs are easy to reach.
It's also a good idea to do a home safety check. Does your mother's house have railings where they need to be, especially along the stairs? Does she need grab bars to help her get in and out of the shower? Is the lighting good throughout the house?
By addressing your mother's fears, having her evaluated, and developing a plan, you can help your mother feel safer and more willing to be active again.
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