DEMENTIA AND DELIRIUM INCREASE CHANCE OF FALLS

Confusion due to dementia and delirium are known risk factors for falls in healthcare. Researches have noted that persons with confusion have a risk of falling 1.8 times that of the elderly without dementia. Falls in the elderly are predictable when the elder has; balance problems, problems with dizziness or fainting, cardiac problems, arthritis, osteoporosis, vision problems, is weak from immobility or a recent infection, is taking numerous medications or a medication for anxiety, or depression.

But the risk of a fall increases to almost double the risk when the elderly have dementia or delirium as well as the other known risk factors.

Behavioral problems – the person with dementia or delirium will have decreased safety awareness and make poor decisions. The person with dementia or delirium are more likely to forget to use assistive devices such as canes and walkers, or stop and put on good safe footwear. If the person also experiences angry outbursts of a physical nature, this also greatly increases their risk of falling.

Dietary deficiency –  the person with dementia or delirium can suffer from a poor nutritional status due to bad food choices. Adequate protein, essential vitamins, and water are needed for good health.  And especially vitamin D and calcium are necessary for strong bones.

Vision changes – a person with dementia can experience a decline in the ability to sense where they are in space. This often results in sitting down and missing a chair. Added to that a decrease in visual accommodation to light and dark, glare intolerance, altered depth perception and possibly physical changes in eyes due to aging, increase the risk of falls to an even greater degree.

Chronic illness – arthritis causing stiffening of joints, osteoporosis and bone deterioration increases risk of injury related to a fall, stroke and Parkinson’s disease increase the risk of falls. These are known issues with aging, and the elder with dementia who has painful swollen joints from arthritis is at even more risk.

Acute illness – has been shown to be a factor in 10% to 20% of falls in the elderly. An acute infection will cause weakness, fatigue, even dizziness. But the person with dementia or delirium will have an increase in their confusion.

Continuous monitoring of the elder with dementia or delirium is necessary as well as monitoring for these increased risk factors.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

FOR THE ELDERLY – TO WALK OR NOT TO WALK – THAT IS TOO OFTEN THE QUESTION

“Sit down Gladys, please sit down.” Gladys was the 102 year old former Army nurse living in a small 15 resident, senior care cottage in Clearwater, Florida. Yes, Gladys was a little confused at times, and she did forget that she needed help to walk. But from the time she was up in the morning,(dressed for the day in one of her many flowered dresses and comfortable, sensible shoes) all she heard was to “sit down.”

It is not surprising that people age two want to walk. Or that people twenty-two, fifty-two, and sixty-two, want to walk for that matter. No matter what your age, walking means independence. Walking builds the kind of strength you are not able to build any other way. Walking provides weight bearing that builds bone and protects against osteoporosis. Walking gives any person the chance to feel their muscles move, and know they are alive.

Walking for the elderly, is protective of their overall health in so many ways. Walking reduces the incidence of urinary tract infections, protects against pneumonia, supports appetite, maintains muscle mass, gives the elderly opportunities for socialization and most of all maintains the ability to walk.

The good news for Gladys was that her attempts to stand, and then to sit down again several times daily, was maintaining her thigh muscles. She instinctively reached out for the arms of her chair when she stood and because of the constant practice she was quite steady going from sitting to standing. But more than that, no matter how many times she was asked to sit back down, Gladys’ spirit was still visible in her ongoing attempts to get going.

It was kindly pointed out to Gladys’ direct caregiver, that going out first thing in the morning and taking a walk, before it became hot might be a good idea for Gladys. All she needed was someone to take her arm and give just a little support from time to time to help with her balance. Didn’t seem too much to ask for this woman who had given so much, to so many, during her career. But no, now that twenty-something girl was in charge of her and the “girl” didn’t think Gladys needed to walk. So it began again, “Gladys please, please sit down.”

If you know of a Gladys who wants to walk but everyone around her is afraid she will fall please go to www.merrywalker.com and see some safe ambulation devices.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

HOW THE NURSING HOME PREVENTS FALLS

Every year the average nursing home will have between 100 to 200 patient falls. The people who fall the most often are men, and patients who are confused. Men fall almost twice as often as women because they are less likely to call for assistance, because it is more difficult for them to admit needing help. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia fall frequently, because they no longer have safety awareness.  Statistics tell us that 35% of those patients who fall are unable to walk, yet they try.

Most patient falls happen in the patient’s room, when the person is attempting something without assistance. Few falls happen in places like a dining room or at a nurses station where many staff members are available to monitor for unsafe behaviors. The majority of those falls in patient rooms have to do with needing to go to the bathroom. Being incontinent of urine, having diarrhea, and having to urinate frequently at night all contribute to the high number of falls.

Added risk factors are poor vision, going bare foot, clutter on the floor, poor lighting and possible a slippery/wet floor from the patient becoming incontinent. As well as the patient forgetting to reach for their cane or walker in their rush to the bathroom.

A nursing home fall prevention program includes assessing each and every patient for their fall risk. All of the above mentioned problems are identified. A plan of care is developed and all staff members are informed of the plan. Safety devices are put in place, most of those devices are in the form of alarms. A good web site for safety devices is -www.Rehabmart.com. Their site is very user friendly and they have a large selection of safety alarms.

Looking at the environment, follows the assessment. Are the grab bars placed correctly? If the patinet is getting out of bed, is the bed in a low position, with an alarm? Is the lighting adequate, are there motion sensors in place? Is the patient on a regular toileting schedule before bed? How often does the staff check on them during the night?

A big deterrent for falls is a busy, engaged patient, a patient who has activities to go to that they enjoy. A patient who is really tired when it is time for bed, that they enjoy a good nights sleep.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Restorative Nursing and Gerontology

FALLS, SENIORS AND NURSING HOMES

Phil lives alone unless you count his dog, Clare. Phil now is seventy-three and most people would have considered him in better than average shape. He is not one for exercise but he always has watched what he eats, and was blessed with good genes. However, Phil made some very bad decisions.

It happened on a very nasty night in the Midwest. There was a ugly ice-sleet storm raging outside when Clare needed to go out. Phil did his usual thing at night he took Clare out into the backyard. Too bad his usual thing was to walk Clare in his underwear. So when Phil fell, he was too embarrassed to call out to his neighbors for help.  So there he lay with an injured leg, shoulder and arm, out there on the ice.

Because Phil didn’t want to call for help it took him two and a half hours in the cold, on the ice, to pull himself to his back door and drag himself in.   This experience caused Phil to be hospitalized for five days and is now in a nursing home due to the pneumonia that set in while hospitalized.

What seniors can do to protect against falls:

  • if you live alone (and are even if in very good condition like Phil) wear an alert button
  • think ahead, make good decisions and be proactive – is it really a good idea in any weather to be outside in your underwear
  • prepare for the weather – when in snow, ice, sleet – carry a small bag of salt, sand or gravel to throw out in front of yourself as you walk
  • for those who have to go out in all weather – consider rubber ice cleats that easily attach to the bottom of any shoe or boot – they are easy to put on and off and very in expensive

It really didn’t seem like it would be Phil who would be in a nursing home, at least not until a very old age. Bad weather got him there, and a fall, but more than that it was bad choices.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

FALL PREVENTION GUIDELINES FOR SENIORS IN WINTER WEATHER

Of course the elderly and seniors are afraid of falling, but Beth was only 31 when she fell on ice in a parking lot. Beth was late for work and walking much too fast for the slippery conditions in the parking lot that day. And the parking lot as slick as it was, made her fall even harder, resulting in a fractured wrist.

Walking in winter weather calls for extra diligence in:

  • Taking care of your body, for it to function as limber and flexible as possible. Warm up your legs, feet and knees before you go out in snow and possibly slippery conditions. A great way to warm up feet is with a warm water soak in Epsom salts. Difficulty walking can be due to inflammation which will make tissue painful, tight and stiff. Knees, legs and feet can be especially vulnerable to inflammation, and that inflammation can be tracked back to poor food choices. Avoid inflammatory foods; sugar, white flour, white potatoes, white rice, and pretty much anything that is white.
  • Exercising – to improve strength and balance. Maintain a regular exercise routine and on days when the elderly cannot get out, it is even more important to exercise. Stretch before going out, stretching improves circulation and limbers the joints and muscles.
  • Careful, but appropriate use of pain medications. Just as a person in a healthcare situation would take a pain medication before going to therapy, so also medicating before walking outside maybe just as appropriate. Arnica gel is a great topical for pain, swelling and stiffness. There are new reports all the time on the benefits of Ibuprofen medications for inflammatory pain relief.
  • Dressing for the weather. Now that you have those legs, knees and feet warmed up, keep them that way. Three light layers of clothes are preferred to one heavy layer. Be aware of any clothing that might be too restrictive, and actually decrease the ability to move. I personally love the new warm light weight fabrics – long underwear anyone?
  • If the elderly use a cane or walker they should also use that walking device, in winter weather. However caution needs to be taken when rubber tips on canes/crutches become wet – they can be extremely slippery on a hard surface indoor floor.

Many elderly people become isolated in winter and suffer from depression. Going outdoors, enjoying fresh air, nature and socializing is so necessary to protect against depression in winter.

Virginia Garberding RN
Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing