Larry, 96, picked up the 1-pound weights, and did a few reps. Next, he placed his hands on the arms of his recliner and lifted himself in and out of his chair.
The exercises were meant to make him stronger, and less susceptible to falls. One in four upstate New York adults ages 65 and older fell in the last year, with many suffering injuries and hospitalizations, according to research by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
Larry is part of that trend. He has fallen several times.
“But falls don’t have to be an accepted part of the aging process,” said Patricia Bomba, M.D., vice president, geriatrics, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “There are simple things that everyone can do right now for themselves and their loved ones to help reduce the incidence of falls and promote independent and active lifestyles.”
“It’s critical that the family is involved since the older adult can’t do everything by themselves,” she added.
Not quite the body builder
Larry has lived with his daughter, Nan Miller, and her husband, Howard, in their Pittsford home for about a year. With his most recent fall, Larry slid off the couch and hurt his knees. Nothing was broken, but the fall left him weak. His balance was poor.
He was susceptible to falling again.
Then the family met Julie Howe, a physical therapist with Lifetime Care. She offered several simple changes to help Larry regain his strength and avoid falls. Nan and her husband:
- Raised the sofa by placing small blocks under the legs of the couch and lowered his bed. Both moves made it easier for Larry to get in and out of the bed and sofa.
- Removed rugs since it could cause him to slip and fall.
- Switched Larry from a cane to a walker
“When he was using the cane, he’d slip or misstep, and he’d fall,” Nan said. “Knock on wood, but since he’s started to use the walker, he’s been really pretty good.”
Nan also works closely with Larry’s doctor on his prescription medication. Certain drugs have side effects, such as dizziness, that can cause an older adult to fall. So Nan is constantly discussing side effects with her dad’s doctor so he can adjust medication accordingly.
Julie also suggested certain exercises for Larry, along with regular walks with his walker around the house.
“The little things that she’s asked my dad to do have helped give him the little extra strength he’s needed,” Nan said. “He’s not going to become a body builder, but it’s made a difference.”
Joining the family for dinner
Larry listened to Julie, and he became stronger. His increased strength, along with a few more changes, helped him become more mobile and independent.
Julie taught Larry how to safely get in and out of the sofa and dining room chairs. She suggested that Nan and her husband add a tray to his walker. That way, Larry wouldn’t have to rely on them to get food out of the refrigerator.
“Before Julie came, my dad had trouble getting off the sofa,” Nan said. “He was limited to his bedroom. He had trouble getting up from the table in the kitchen.”
“But we didn’t want him eating in his bedroom, we wanted him eating in the kitchen with the family, which he’s now able to do,” she added.
On a recent morning, Larry got off the couch, eased himself into his walker and started pacing the hallway — just as Julie had asked him to do.
Too often, Julie said, older adults don’t embrace the changes they need to make to stay strong and mobile. They think they’re too old, or that they don’t have the energy or the time.
“But he did it, and he’s 96 years old,” Julie said. “He increased his strength his functional ability . . . and I have to give him credit for that. It makes a big difference. I hope everyone can look at him as an example and be inspired.”
Julie also credited Nan and her family. It’s easier for the older adult to avoid falls when the entire family is working together toward that common goal.
“The more people who support you, the more success you’ll have,” she said.
To learn more about what you can do to avoid falls, visit ExcellusBCBS.com/FactSheets