Q and A: My husband is subject to falls. What should I do?

Question: My husband has recently fallen three times and laughs it off, but I’m worried that something is wrong. What should I do?

Answer: Plenty of comedians have been falling or tripping for years to get a quick laugh from their audience. But, it sure isn’t  a laughing matter when you’re older: Every year nearly 20,000 people die from a fall, over a half-million will be hospitalized, and well over 1.3 million will land in the emergency room. Every day over one thousand people break their hip, hurling them down a path toward medical complications, loss of independence, and even death. And if you’ve fallen and stumbled before, you’re three times more likely to do it again. So you have  every right  to be worried about your husband. Most of us think that the best way to reduce someone’s chance of falling is to simply remove obstacles around the house. It’s a start, but there’s so much more to consider.

Here is what you want to look for:

Medications. Review whatever medications he is taking and see if dizziness is listed as a side-effect. Ask him what he takes then and if he notices feeling drowsy or dizzy within the hour. Maybe he could take this medicine at bedtime or ask his doctor of there is a alternative drug. If he’s taking a diuretic (water pill) and needs to urinate frequently, it would be good not to take that medication at bedtime, as it will cause him to get up during the night and increase his risk of falling. Stay clear of alcohol, as it often contributes to dizziness when taken with medications. If he has blood pressure problems, monitor it closely, as high or low pressure can cause him to lose his balance and fall.

Vision and Hearing. If your husband suffers from age-related eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, or cataracts, he won’t be able to negotiate steps or see obstacles in his path. It may also affect his sense of balance. He should be seeing an ophthamalogist to treat these conditions and visit the local Blind Center, where he can get all kids of lifestyles tips and assistive devices for people living with low vision. When was the last time he saw his optometrist to make sure his prescription is up to date? Changes in hearing can also trigger loss of balance, so he should have his ears and hearing examined.

Walking, Muscles, and Bones. Be sure to take a look at what kind of shoes he wears. Are they the right size? Are they rubber-soled and low-heeled? Is he wearing long pants that are easy to trip over? Does he wear slippers around the house that give him no support, flip-flop or glide across the floor? If he has a strength or balance program, then he should try using a cane or walker to steady his gait. He must keep his bones and muscles in good shape. Older people who exercise, lift weights and stretch survive falls (and are less likely to fall in the first place) then their couch potato counterparts. It would also be helpful, if you went over with him how he fell each of these three times and the events that led up to each. Did he take a pill beforehand? What was he wearing? What time of day? See if you can find any pattern to share with his doctor.

Information provided by Dr. Linda Rhodes, Finding Your Way, 250 Real Life Questions and Commonsense Answers http://lindarhodescaregiving.com/index.htm