Fall Prevention Day is Sept. 22 and while it is meant to raise awareness about how to prevent fall-related injuries among older adults, news articles seem to focus on the obvious: clearing obstructions in the house, being aware of loose wires and other tripping hazards, etc.
When we think of those normally those prone to falling, we think of their physical deficits (being off-balance, tripping over things, etc.). But we do not consider the mental deficit, which is just as important: not being confident. Some older people are already in a negative mindset, thinking “when is my next fall going to occur?” instead of being mentally prepared for how they can prevent it, or what they can do if it does happen.
Nassau native Bill Kraupner has been a physical therapist for more than 20 years with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, and he makes sure to do comprehensive mental coaching along with providing physical tips to encourage patients to plan ahead in their minds, so they know what they are capable of doing when the time comes.
Videotape your habits
Kraupner had a patient with Parkinson’s disease who was very unsteady on his feet. He videotaped the patient with his own phone so he could see different things he was doing wrong, observe a few times and make changes. He could see himself before he made the simple safety corrections Kraupner taught him, during and after, so he could observe for himself the right away to do things, which allows the patient to mentally visualize everything and let it all sink in.
Don’t let your past falls scare you
Kraupner was the PT for a woman who fell two times in her kitchen, and was anxious to go into that room moving forward. He helped her mentally prepare herself by asking key questions to find out more and so she could truly understand what happened so she could go into the room feeling well equipped to handle it. Where did the fall occur? What happened? If it happened near the fridge, was the lighting too dark? Were you standing too far from the door?
Think about each upcoming step (literally and figuratively)
First, make sure you have proper lighting. Make sure the switch is within reaching distance, or get your lights hooked up to a remote to make it even easier. Think about the surface you are walking on…are you starting on carpet? When you get to the kitchen does it switch to tile? Since tile is smoother you might have a natural tendency to walk faster, so be aware of how you’re moving. Take a second to think before you sit down somewhere—is it a chair with an armrest or not? (Should always have armrests).
Kraupner speaks to his patients in motivational phrases to help build confidence. He tells them “You are strong, you can do this” to help them believe in themselves and feel more comfortable caring for themselves.
Work from the waist to chest level
This is your “safe area” so try to make everything as accessible as possible within that space.
Prepare for if you do fall
Of course all of these efforts are to prevent you from falling, but if you still do fall, don’t panic. Take a moment to think ahead. Always have your life alert on you so you can call that when you fall. If you know you will be able to get up, make sure you know of a safe, stable area around you that you can use to help yourself up.
In our minds we start panicking right away—but it only takes 15 seconds to take a breath and think about what you can do.
—Submitted by the Visiting Nurse Service of New York