Aging Parent? Keeping Them Safe and Preventing Falls

Nicky Kollmansberger
Featured Speaker:

Nicky Kollmansberger, RN
Registered Nurse, Nicky Kollmansberger, has led the Aspirus Medford Hospital’s Stepping On – Falls Prevention program for five years. Trained by the Wisconsin Healthy Aging Association, she has helped nearly a hundred individuals lead a safer, more balanced lifestyle.

Is your aging parent at risk of falling or tripping. This can result in broken bones or more serious injuries. Making changes in their home helps lower their risk of falling.

Re-organizing their home is the first step to help prevent falls. For example, to help stay safe in the bathroom, put hand rails in the bathtub or shower and next to the toilet.

Listen in as Nicky Kollmansberger, RN discusses what you can do for your aging parent to help keep them safe from falls and injuries in their home.

Transcription

Melanie Cole (Host): Do you have an aging parent? How stable, from a balance perspective, are they? My guest today is registered nurse, Nicky Kollmansberger. She's led the Aspirus Medford Hospital's “Stepping On” falls prevention program for about 5 years. Welcome to the show, Nicky. So, tell us about the likelihood and falls with our aging parents. What do you see typically?

Nicky Kollmansberger (Guest): Sure. Well, there are some interesting statistics that are coming out through the CDC and those are some pretty staggering numbers. Each year about 2.8 million older adults are treated in the emergency department for an injury related to a fall.

Melanie: Yikes! Okay, so it's a very common situation. What do you tell people every day when they say to you, "I'm worried. My parents are living independently and I'm worried about them falling. What can I do to help prevent this?"

Nicky: Sure, there are many simple steps that you can take to ensure the safety of a parent or a loved one. So, typically what we would like you to do is take a look at risk factors. Some of those risk factors would be taking multi medications, usually more than 3 medications or high risk medications. Some of those medications might be things like a blood pressure medication, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant medications. We want to make sure that you're taking proper bone health medications, vitamins D, calcium, and then look at risks like are your parents having gait changes? Are they having weakness in their legs? What can you do about those things? If they're having visual issues, if they're starting to report that things are looking wavy or cloudy; if they're not seeing things as crisply as they have in the past, get them a visual exam. Pain--often pain causes changes in your gait. As we age, pain is more and more prevalent. There can be muscular pain, joint pain caused by a variety of things including arthritis, degenerative joint issues. So, if your parents are suffering from chronic pain, it's important to get them in to a physiatrist to see if there’s anything that can be done for that. Home hazards--there are so many things that we can be doing and simple changes that we can be making in our homes such as decluttering our homes. We oftentimes find that older adults have trouble getting rid of things. We need to help our parents understand what hazards come with that. We also need to be getting rid of throw rugs. That is one of the number one things that cause falls in the home is floor furnishings. So, get rid of floor rugs/throw rugs. Make sure that your home is decluttered. Do things to make stairs safer. If your parents are using stairs on a daily basis and that's not an option for them not to use stairs, then look at possibly painting the front of the stairs a different color because that helps to trick our brain and our eyes to lift our foot a little bit higher. Also, lack of safety rail handrails or properly installed safety handrails. Those are some inexpensive items that we should be putting in our bathrooms. We should be putting them on both sides of stairs for elderly parents and loved ones. Pets--as much as we love our pets, they often can be a fall hazard. They want to be near our feet a lot of times and that can take one split second, one wrong move with a pet under our feet and cause some pretty tragic health consequences. Improper lighting--make sure that your hallways and your bathrooms have proper lighting. A lot of older folks are going to the bathroom frequently in the middle of the night and they have to either consciously turn on a light or they are not turning on a light at all, which can be a huge hazard for tripping. So, it's important to use a motion-sensor light for our loved ones who are having to get up in the middle of the night, so it's not a required action on their part. And then, also making sure that they're properly equipped for snow and ice in the northern regions where we have some pretty brutal winters. Make sure that we're salting our sidewalks. Make sure that we are wearing appropriate footwear. There are some great products out there such as Yaktrax that are made to go onto your shoes or boots and give you more of a grip in snow and ice conditions. So, look into some of those products. If you use a cane, there is an ice pick that can be bought and installed on most canes that can just be flipped down in the winter time. So, there are quite a few very simple, inexpensive things that we can be doing to reduce our risk.

Melanie: Wow. What a wonderful summary, Nicky. That was just perfect. And now, what about getting our parents to be a little bit stronger and some exercises, balancing exercise? Are there things you'd like them to be doing, getting in an exercise program to help them to avoid some of those things?

Nicky: Absolutely. I think there are so many programs out in our communities, even rural areas, that have strength and balance exercises, specifically targeted towards the older population. I, for one, teach in a rural area a program called “Stepping On”. It's a combination of strength and balance exercises along with all of the things that I've summarized earlier, just general information, how do I keep myself safer? These programs are often free, so if you have an aging and disability resource center, social services outlet, something like that, go ahead and contact them because I'm willing to bet they have free programs out there to help your loved one maintain and gain balance. Now, if you're not finding that successful, or you have an upcoming visit with your physician, your primary care provider, absolutely talk to them about the things that are happening: that you feel like you're not lifting your feet high enough, that you feel weakness in your legs, and that you are concerned about your risk for falling. Your primary care provider can do several things. If it's contributed to pain, they can refer you to a physiatrist in your area. If they feel that it's weakness and balance issues, they can refer you to physical therapy and try to regain some of what you’ve have lost and physical therapy can teach you how to maintain that once you've gained that back.Then, of course, usually your primary care provider can also lead you to an Aging and Disability resource center or social services to help you get into some of those programs.

Melanie: Tell us how people can find more about your “Stepping On” falls prevention program.

Nicky: Well, you can go to www.wihealthyaging.org for information about where there might be a “Stepping On” program coming up in your area.

Melanie: Thank you so much, Nicky. What great information and that website again to find out information on the “Stepping On” programs for the Aspirus community can be found at www.wihealthyaging.org. And, of course, for more information about Aspirus, you can go to www.aspirus.org. You're listening to Aspirus Health Talk. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.

Category
  - Podcasts
  - Aging
  - Caregiving