Talking to our elderly loved ones about fall prevention can be challenging, as with many issues that arise around the topic of aging. Often times, it’s really hard for people to accept that their ability to get around is compromised or that their sense of independence is declining. As we’ve talked about before, many falls are preventable, and awareness is the best place to start. It’s not unusual for elderly people to believe that a fall is inevitable—they just accept that it is part of getting older. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. So, talking about fall prevention is a really important way to help our elderly loved ones stay safe. Here are a few tips:
1) Introduce It Gently. You don’t have to make a big deal out of a conversation about falling—and in fact, it may be better to try and slowly introduce the idea that your loved one has a lot of control over whether or not they fall. Get a sense of what they think about falling—if they are resigned to the idea, if they haven’t thought about it all or if they are fearful. That will help inform you of how to proceed.
2) Relate It to Their Current Experience. When a person can see how fall prevention relates to their day-to-day life, they are more likely to think about it. For example, if you notice that your loved one is starting a to collect piles of books at the bottom of their stairs, point out that they could trip over them and encourage them to move the books (with your help) to a place that they don’t walk frequently.
3) Put it in the Context of Independence. We all deeply value our independence (especially Alaskans). If we take steps to prevent falls sooner rather than later, then we are more likely to maintain our independence.
4) Make Specific Suggestions. It’s one thing to tell someone they need to exercise more. It’s another to suggest an exercise class geared to seniors, a restorative yoga class or something like Tai Chi. The more specific you are, the more revealing response you will get—which will help you address fears and help determine what options are best suited to your loved one.
5) Offer to Help. No one really likes to be told what to do. Instead, we all appreciate thoughtful suggestions that take our feelings into consideration. When making suggestions about how to prevent falls, find ways to assist that person in making those changes—whether it’s helping to repair the railing on the front porch or driving them to a fall prevention class.
6) Provide Literature or Statistics. It’s a lot easier to dismiss the seriousness of something when there aren’t numbers or external resources that support the idea. Give your loved one the opportunity to read the numbers for themselves then follow up with a conversation about where they might see their own risk in relation to those numbers.
7) Empower Them. Ask your loved one if they are afraid of falling and why. Talk to them about where they see risks and also about where you see risks, them help them to make a plan that responds to their concerns.
8) Make It a Larger Conversation. There are a lot of organizations and resources that focus on fall prevention. Tell your loved one about these organizations and help them to attend workshops or events. This will help them to realize that they are not alone in these kinds of challenges.
Before you know it, they’ll be telling YOU to watch YOUR step.