Falls and Dementia: What You Need to Know
As the weather gets colder and the ground freezes over, we all start to feel a little unsteady in our footing. But for people living with dementia, the fear of falling can be more than an occasional thought in the wintertime.
November is Fall Prevention Month, and we want to discuss why, for older adults and people living with dementia, falls are an everyday worry. In fact, falls can be dangerous, if not deadly.
The concern of falling isn’t one to brush off: falls are the leading cause of injury for older Canadians. Two billion dollars are spent yearly due to healthcare costs related to falls in Canada, and falls can be especially dangerous for people living with dementia.
Now consider if a person who experiences a fall, or is susceptible to falling, has dementia to worry about too.
Falls and dementia have an intimate connection. While fall risk does increase with age, when the person is also living with dementia, the risk is much higher. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 16% of hospital admissions by seniors living with dementia are fall-related, while for seniors without dementia, that number reduces to 7%.
What can you do to reduce risk of falls for the people living with dementia in your life? Here’s some tips to get you thinking!
Assess Your Falls Risk
Whether you’re concerned about falls yourself, or have an older adult or person living with dementia in your life, it is important to know where you stand when it comes to falls. Start by assessing the risk of falls to find out where vulnerabilities lie.
- For example, if you are living with dementia, you may already know that you’re at an increased risk. What can you do to manage your fall risk when it comes to dementia?
First, you’ll want to make your home or living environment dementia friendly. Being dementia friendly means the environment is attuned to the symptoms of dementia—like increased imbalance, and confusion.
*Tip: Remove the loose rugs and clutter from the environment, reducing the chances of tripping over objects.
- When someone is living with dementia and has other health issues, those need to be considered as well.For example, if someone had both dementia and diabetes, they should take steps to ensure that both health issues are being looked after to the best of their ability and think about adjusting their home set-up accordingly. For instance, if their bedroom could only be accessed by stairs, consider moving their bedroom to be a ground level room to reduce the necessity of stairs. Consider the same for other necessary spaces, such as the bathroom or kitchen.
- Ask your doctor for a referral for a Comprehensive Falls Assessment. This assessment will not only consider physical risk—looking at gait, balance, vision and hearing, bone health, blood pressure, medications and more—but also environmental factors like if there’s a pet in the home, or if there’s poor lighting.
There are many risk factors when it comes to falls. Having a Comprehensive Falls Assessment will help you identify risk factors, so you can put a plan in place.
Get Your Team Together
As the folks at the Falls Prevention Community of Practice say, “It takes a community to prevent a fall: We all have a role to play.” Know who your team is, and who should be on your team, and rally to work together on a fall-reduction plan.
So, who should be on a fall reduction team? Just about anyone you can think of. Your general practitioner, family and friends should be involved, but also think of the other professionals that could help, such as your chiropractor and/or occupational therapist.
Having various people by your side will allow you to assess the risk from different viewpoints. For instance, an occupational therapist will be able to flag risks in living environments that a family member or friend may not even consider.
Once there’s a team in place and the risk has been assessed from all possible angles, one can begin to focus one of the most controllable risks there is: the body.
Strengthen Your Body, Reduce Your Risk
Fall reduction doesn’t just happen by fixing the environment alone.
Strengthening your body can not only reduce fall risk, but it can also help those who have fallen to make a faster recovery.
Luckily, there’s a program offered by the Alzheimer Society of Ontario called Minds in Motion which focuses on stimulating the brain while moving the body. This is a great program for people living with early to mid-stage dementia and their care partners to take part in.
The program not only will reduce fall risk through muscle strengthening, but it has the bonus of working out the mind. Check out mindsinmotion.ca to learn more and to see how you can find a class running near you.
Falls risk isn’t something that should be taken lightly. Falls can happen and will happen to many of us. Which fall will be the one to leave you in pain, in hospital, or severely injured? Take steps now to find out how you can reduce your fall risk, and the fall risk for people living with dementia around you.
Visit fallpreventionmonth.ca to see what you can do about raising awareness about the risks of falls and how you can limit your own fall risk, or the risk of falling for someone living with dementia in your life.