LeBlanc: Risk of falling increases with dementia

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I have a saying, “The further advanced dementia becomes, the closer their feet will stay to the ground.”

What I mean by this is, people who have a dementia related disease eventually will develop an unsteady gait, hardly lifting their feet. Instead they will develop a shuffle and this creates a higher risk of falling. My advice is this: before they reach this point, as a safety precaution, discard all of the throw rugs in their homes. However, this is only one of the concerns to consider. There are many other things we need to address.

Statistics show 30 percent of all senior citizens fall each year. That percentage becomes much greater with dementia patients.

Being cognitively impaired also can affect their sense of perception. Just like that notice on the side-view mirror of your vehicle, for them objects might appear closer than they actually are. Sometimes when they’re approaching a step or a curb, they might make the mistake of lifting their foot way too early, throwing them off balance.

Their anxiety level and state of confusion also might be factors. Many times I watched my dad try to get out of a chair and not quite make it, causing him to fall backward into his seat. Although he did not get injured, when he finally did make it to his feet he would remain unsteady. Even the fear of falling can become hazardous for them.

Medications are another worry. One of the dementia medications my father was prescribed threw off his equilibrium immensely. Every day I was afraid he was going to fall. After his doctor finally took him off that medicine, he recovered most of his balance.

There are many things, large and small, that we can do to help our loved ones stay safe at home. One of my favorites is keeping their house well lit. Even at night, when everyone is asleep, keep those lights burning.

Caregivers should help their patients stay strong by encouraging them to exercise. Leg lifts are great. Join in with them and they might think it’s helping you as well. These can even be done while they’re sitting in a chair. Speaking of chairs; rocking chairs are a great tool for maintaining good circulation in their legs. Without them even knowing it, every time they pump their feet to create the back and forth motion, they are strengthening their legs and providing a better blood flow throughout their lower extremities. Also, the repetition and movement can be very soothing for them.

Certain rooms can be made safe with simple adjustments. For example, in the kitchen, forget about using the top shelves at all. Many falls occur while stepping on a step stool or climbing onto a chair to get something down that’s out of reach.

Considering the bathrooms, they should have multiple grab bars by the toilet and in the bathtub/shower. Non-slip adhesive strips are essential. And if they will be using a shower chair, buy one that has a strong back so they won’t tip over backward. In addition, a raised toilet seat will help them stand up easier.

Pay close attention to what they wear on their feet. Those old fluffy slippers and flip flops need to go. If they’re having trouble with their shoelaces, it’s time to switch to Velcro straps or loafers.

The list is long so I will stop here. Just use your common sense and take a slow walk around their house with eyes wide open. Make certain their street address is visible in case of an emergency. Too many times first responders are called to a home and end up circling the neighborhood because the address was not well marked. A quick response time could be crucial.

Even if you follow every rule in the book, accidents still can happen. What we need to do is lower the odds of them getting injured.