- February 16, 2021
- Steve Heisler
- Senior Injuries
Are you aware of the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and falling? About one-third of older people over the age of 65 will fall four times per year. For people with Alzheimer’s disease, the percentage of falls increases by 50%. The most significant risk for falling is cognitive problems; mainly, they are dealing with confusion. Unfortunately, other specific cognitive and systemic effects place Alzheimer’s individuals at a greater risk for falls.
Medication Side Effects
When you look at the general older population and in terms of fall dangers, there are substantial risk factors. For instance, problems with walking and balance in the aging population put them at risk for falls. Walking and balance problems get significantly worse for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Another risk factor is the side effects of multiple medications. People with Alzheimer’s disease typically have prescriptions for four FDA-approved drugs: donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), galantamine (Razadyne, formerly Reminyl), and memantine (Namenda). On top of that, these patients will also have prescriptions for even more medications treating other ailments. All the different side effects from drugs is a massive risk factor for falling in the senior population.
Cognitive Risk Factors
When we focus on Alzheimer’s disease, specific cognitive and systemic effects place individuals at risk. For example, people will have a lack of understanding and awareness of their potential for falls. Plus, many judgment errors happen throughout the day for the patient, such as the inability to recognize the difference between a safe and a hazardous environmental situation. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease will also overestimate their ability for safe mobility. When walking around the house, they may think they can walk down the hall with the lights off. However, it’s just not the case.
Also, people with Alzheimer’s disease think they can walk to a particular room without a cane or a walker. Then, they lose their balance, and they fall. Often, seniors with Alzheimer’s will forget that they can’t go everywhere by themselves and that they need a caregiver to help them. Instead, the senior will be insistent on performing activities alone. For instance, getting out of bed and going to the bathroom could be things that seniors will attempt to do independently. Unfortunately, they don’t have the cognitive ability always to remember that they need assistance. Overall, failing to remember limitations in daily activities is a significant risk.
Confusion May Not Be Alzheimer’s
When kids see that their elderly parents are suffering from memory loss, they often think there’s nothing they can do. However, that’s simply not the case. The reality is that we can do many things to reverse what’s going on. So, when a patient comes to a physician with memory loss, the doctor can evaluate what is going on. Then, they can look for reversible causes. For instance, medication could be causing cognitive problems. To reverse this issue would be a matter of trying a different drug.
Perhaps there are other problems like depression, metabolism, blood glucose, sodium, and calcium. Issues with these things could be leading to cognitive issues. Maybe there’s an underlying infection that isn’t under control. Other factors could include head trauma from a previous incident. All these things can lead to confusion. When treated, it could lead to less confusion for the senior. Overall, don’t assume your loved one has Alzheimer’s unless properly diagnosed.
You can do many things in the home environment to prevent falls for people with Alzheimer’s disease. First, bring a geriatrician into the home for an evaluation. Next, the burden will fall on the caregiver to look at the environment and determine what is safe and what isn’t. There are a host of potential environmental problems. For instance, lighting, stairs, and kitchens are a huge environmental concern for patients with Alzheimer’s.
However, you don’t want to change everything in the home because when you do, you change the familiar, leading to even more confusion. So the best thing to do is treat people as individuals. Remember, not all Alzheimer’s will have the same difficulties. So, the caregiver should walk around within the environment and see how the home provides safety for the elderly patient or hinders their safety. Lastly, the caregiver should make adjustments accordingly.
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