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"Dear Jayne, I need advice for keeping my mom active but safe this winter!”

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Dear Jayne:

My mom had a bad fall on the ice last winter. While we are fortunate that she didn’t break any bones, she was bruised and sore for weeks. It left her fearful of falling again. So much so that we had a difficult time getting her to leave her house for months!

Now that winter has arrived again mom is already starting to isolate herself. From our experience last year, I know it just isn’t good for her mental or physical health to spend so much time inside and alone.

Do you have any suggestions we can use to keep Mom safe this winter?

Kind Regards,

George


A Fear of Falling Can Keep Seniors Indoors during the Winter

Dear George:

Falls can be a tricky issue for seniors! Most know falls are the leading cause of disabling injuries to older adults. And they understand that after they have experienced one, they are more likely to fall again. What further complicates the issue is that a fear of falling often causes older adults to be more tentative and sedentary. Both of which increase their risk for a fall.

There are steps you can take to help your mother feel safer and more confident. A few are suggestions she will want to be sure to talk about with her family physician.

First, it’s important to know falls are not a normal part of aging and that isolation is definitely not a healthy solution for preventing them. So you are right to try to help your mom overcome her fears.

A good way to get started might be to sit down with your mother and discuss her fear of falling. Is it just the ice and snow she is fearful of? Or is she feeling less steady on her feet most of the time?

Should you discover your mom’s fear of falling extends beyond concerns about snow and ice, it may be time to visit her primary care physician together. They can evaluate your mother’s physical health and get to the bottom of what is making her feel unsteady. Her doctor might be able to change a medication that is known to cause dizziness or order a few weeks of physical therapy to help rebuild her muscle strength.

An unsteady gait can be caused by a variety of problems. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Loss of muscle strength due to a sedentary lifestyle
  • Medication side effects or interactions
  • Undiagnosed vision issues
  • Fluctuating blood pressure

Once you know for certain what the underlying cause of your mom’s fear is, you can work together to rebuild her confidence.

Overcoming a Senior’s Fear of Falling

If it is worries about the ice and snow that are keeping her inside, maybe the two of you can spend time exploring solutions that will help her feel safe leaving her home. Here are a few to talk about with your mom:

  • Does she have a reliable snow and ice removal plan in place? It’s an absolute necessity for seniors. Many local agencies on aging have snow removal programs if she needs assistance.
  • You might also consider purchasing new winter boots. While many seniors have boots, not all are good for snow and ice. Avoid “bootie” style boots. Opt instead for boots that go above the ankle for increased support. A thick, rubber sole with good traction is also important.
  • Experts also say it helps to “walk like a penguin” when you are outdoors during winter months. While your mom might feel a little silly, keeping her center of gravity over her front foot can help lower the risk for a fall.
  • Finding a transportation service that can take her door to door when you can’t be there might also give her more confidence than trying to drive herself during winter months. This is another service most agencies on aging offer to local seniors.

Finally, one online resource you might find helpful is Fall Prevention: Tips for Older Adults & Caregivers. Created by the National Council on Aging (NCOA), this resource center has videos, articles and checklists designed to help family caregivers keep their senior loved ones safe.

Until next time,

Jayne

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Jayne Sallerson is a warm, enthusiastic and compassionate executive with a heart for working with seniors. Jayne has been in senior care for more than 20 years and she says, “I still love what I do.” At Benchmark Senior Living, Jayne now serves as Executive Vice President. A native of New England, Jayne loves to travel, meet new people, and hang out with her favorite pug, Henry.
Jayne started this blog as a way to share the many questions she and her team get every day with other people looking for answers.