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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published January 23 2011

Bursack: Chronic falls need attention

Dear Carol: My mother lives alone. I visit her daily and help her around the house, plus I get her medications ready. The problem is that she has fallen many times. Fortunately, each time has been shortly before I’ve arrived at her apartment, and she hasn’t been seriously hurt. However, it’s very hard for me to get her up. I’m afraid I’ll hurt her. She seems too healthy for a nursing home, but I’m not sure what to do and I worry she’ll fall and have to lie on the floor all night. – Worry Wart

Dear Worry: Your dilemma is familiar. My mother fell at least once a week, and I had a very hard time getting her up. I had to call for emergency help far too often, and that isn’t really what 911 calls are for. I’ve joked, with a hint of seriousness, that every city needs one trained person on call 24/7 to help pick up elders who have fallen.

Do you have any idea why your mother falls? She could have a low-grade infection, such as a urinary tract infection or inner ear problem. Either of these could make her unsteady. She could suffer from low blood sugar, medication side effects, or even an undetected cancer that causes weakness.

Does she fall at the same time of day, say an hour after her medication or in the evening when she is alone? Medications, or even something as simple as a glass of wine with her supper, could be predisposing her to a fall. Please take her to her doctor to rule out these and other potential causes. Your input could be valuable to the doctor, so go along if she’ll let you.

After the checkup, you can look at living options. There are many to consider, depending on her health and the quality of life she now has. If she is reasonably happy, and has a social life, something as simple as a personal medical alarm could put both of your minds at ease. With such an alarm, she’d press a button on her wrist to alert a dispatcher, who could then call you to go over and check on her.

If your mom is alone too much and you feel she’s isolated, she may be a candidate for some in-home care hours or even a move to assisted living. Falls scare most elders, and with good reason. They often result in a broken hip or other disabling or potentially lethal problem. I’m glad you are looking for help.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com.