Dear Carol: My mother is doing great cognitively but she relies on a walker. Even though she’s pretty steady, walkers can catch or go off-balance, so she’s grudgingly agreed to let me get rid of her throw rugs. For more fall protection, I’ve installed grab bars in her bathroom, by her bed and in the hallway where we get her ready to go out. The biggest problem during these last months has been ice and snow. I’ll have to get Mom from the car into the clinic for another appointment soon and I’m already starting to sweat how to do that safely. — VH.
Dear VH: I’m glad that you’re working with your mom on fall prevention.
Area rugs are always a concern. During the years when I was my neighbor’s caregiver, I actually hid his bedroom and bathroom throw rugs because he had experienced so many falls and the potential for more frightened me. The memory of my approach makes me cringe, but hiding them seemed to be my only option and I was soon forgiven.
Something to consider beyond these changes is asking your mom’s doctor to go over her medications to look for any that could increase her risk of falling. If there are drugs that contribute to a foggy mind or dizziness, the doctor might be able to make adjustments. This isn’t always possible, but it’s good to stay on top of all the potential problem areas. Additionally, any exercises that your mom is capable of that will help maintain or improve her balance would be positive. Her doctor may have suggestions, or she may want your mom to see a physical therapist for a personal program.
I understand your stress over the ice and snow. I used to carry a coffee can filled with sand in my car. When Mom had to go somewhere that was a challenge because of icy walks, I’d park as close as I could to the building. Then I’d get out of the car and scatter sand in a pattern so that she could roll her walker without slipping. I'd help her get out and guide her over my sand trail, and then repark the car if necessary. The sand, while messy, turned out to be invaluable aid.
Another idea would be to borrow one of the clinic wheelchairs. I did that frequently, threading the folded walker through the chair’s handles. It was awkward and made for tough going in the snow, but the struggle was worth it if we prevented a fall.
You might also want to investigate the following resources. The National Council on Aging at https://www.ncoa.org/healthy-aging/falls-prevention covers the topic well. Additionally, geriatrician Leslie Kernisan, MD, MPH, offers excellent advice for fall prevention on her website at https://betterhealthwhileaging.net/falls-topic. Thom Disch, who has devoted his professional life to fall prevention, is also a good resource. His website, www.handiramp.com, offers helpful products, and his book, titled “Stop the Slip,” is packed with tips. The book is available on Amazon.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.