People With Alzheimer’s at High Risk of Falls and Injury

April 21, 2011

Falls are a leading cause of broken hips and other serious injuries in the elderly, and those with Alzheimer’s are at particularly high risk of falling. Problems with vision, perception and balance increase as Alzheimer’s advances, making the risk of a fall more likely.

A study from the medical journal Age and Ageing found that seniors with Alzheimer’s are three times more likely to suffer from hip fractures than those without the disease. A broken hip is very painful and requires surgery and hospitalization, which can lead to further disorientation and disability for the person with Alzheimer’s. A broken hip increases the chances that the person with Alzheimer’s may no longer be able to be cared for at home. Furthermore, the study showed, those with Alzheimer’s who suffer a broken hip are more likely to die than those without dementia.

It’s therefore important that persons with Alzheimer’s and those who care for them take measures to prevent falls. Extra attention must also be given to those with Alzheimer’s who are undergoing rehabilitation follow a fall and fracture. Fall prevention is important for caregivers as well, since those who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s must remain mobile and healthy in order to provide optimal care.

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends a number of measures to reduce the chance of falls. Since about half of all falls occur in the home, the center recommends a number of steps to make the home safer.

  • Remove things you can trip over, such as papers, books, clothes, and shoes, from stairs and places where you walk.
  • Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep the rugs from slipping.
  • Keep items you use often in cabinets you can reach easily without using a step stool.
  • Have grab bars put in next to your toilet and in the tub or shower.
  • Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors.
  • Improve the lighting in your home. As you get older, you need brighter lights to see well. Lamp shades or frosted bulbs can reduce glare.
  • Have handrails and lights put in on all staircases.
  • Wear shoes that give good support and have thin non-slip soles. Avoid wearing slippers and athletic shoes with deep treads.

People with Alzheimer’s are particularly likely to have vision or perception problems. Busy patterns, for example, may make it difficult for the person with Alzheimer’s to navigate about a room. Or similar-colored furniture, tables and carpets may be hard to distinguish for the person with Alzheimer’s.

Other steps to reduce the likelihood of falls include getting regular exercise, which can help to improve balance, strength and agility. The ancient martial art of tai chi, for example, has been shown to improve balance and reduce the risk of falls. Ask your doctor about the best type of exercise for you or for someone with Alzheimer’s.  Keep in mind, some people with dementia may have difficulty learning a new kind of exercise.

Many medications, including blood pressure medicines, can cause dizziness when standing, lightheadedness or other problems that increase the risk of falls. If side effects are a problem, ask your doctor about medication alternatives.

Finally, regular vision checks are important at all ages, and particularly in seniors. Eye problems like cataracts, for example, can make it difficult to see and increase the chance of falls, but are easily corrected.

By ALZinfo.org. Reviewed by William J. Netzer, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Source: Nicole L. Baker, Michael N. Cook, H. Michael Arrighi and Roger Bullock: Hip fracture risk and subsequent mortality among Alzheimer’s disease patients in the United Kingdom, 1988–2007 Age and Ageing (2010) doi: 10.1093/ageing/afq146 First published online: November 18, 2010


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