Falls are the leading cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence and injury-related deaths among people over 65.
First, the good news: Most seniors who are psychologically sound and physically active, will survive their injuries. After a period of limited movement and physical therapy, they will likely go back to being independent. The bad news is that seniors who sustain one serious fall are at increased risk of falling again.
For the benefit of those who haven't faced a "fall" crisis, let me share a few things to consider.
I hope you won't need any of this information, but better to be prepared.
1. First, get finances in order. Make sure that the bank has the requisite paperwork on file that would allow you to access their account, pay bills and handle their affairs while they recuperated. Make sure some level-headed member of the family has the ability to move funds, keep the utilities on and deal with insurance claims.
2. Take a seat. Viewing your parents' home and your home from the perspective of someone in a wheelchair is a great way to identify barriers and safety hazards. You can make some immediate changes -- like moving furniture, picking up loose throw rugs, relocating decorative items -- and then plan for widening doors and building ramps for more long term accommodations.
3. Study transportation options. Isolation and loss of lifestyle are two major complications of falls, both of which can lead to depression. For a senior who, until the fall, still drove themselves around town, the loss of mobility is a huge life change. Investigate wheelchair-accessible public transportation, specialized buses geared for disabled citizens, private car services and other assistance. Even if you plan to help Mom or Dad get to most of their appointments, it's helpful for you, and your mobility-challenged senior to have choices available.
4. Call your local senior center. There may be items you'll need temporarily that you can "check out" from the center, eliminating the need to buy one. Senior centers also can provide information about other services you may need.
5. Investigate available in-home services. Home health aides, meal delivery services, prescription deliveries, housekeepers, even in-home hairdressers are available in most cities . Some of these services are targeted to seniors and housebound medical patients, while others are routine services anyone can access.
6. Decide who will do what when. Chances are your recovering senior has still-mobile friends, as well as family members who are willing to help out. Just make sure that your brother knows he’s the one paying the utilities, and your sister is aware that she’s on the schedule to drive Mom to the doctor, and that your daughter still plans to spend an evening watching old movies with Grandma.
7. Plan for entertainment. Maybe your senior is a tech-savvy person who needs an over-bed table for his or her laptop, or maybe you’ll want to subscribe to a premium cable channel, or stock up on season sets of a favorite TV series. Just make sure that low-mobility amusements are available.
Sometimes the very ground you walk on can feel pretty shaky when your stable life is marred by a fall (or three). Planning ahead may not prevent a fall, but it may prevent you from falling apart. And it can make getting back on your feet again just a little bit easier.