My father has had Alzheimer’s disease for about six years and lately I have noticed he is experiencing more falls and loss of balance. Is this a part of the disease process?
According to the National Institute of Health, one out of three adults aged 65 and older falls each year. And, more than 1.6 million aging Americans go to emergency rooms each year for fall-related injuries.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia are at a high risk for falls, and are three times more likely to break a hip, which leads to surgery and immobility. Preventing falls is critical,.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia fall because of cognitive impairments, difficulties with coordination, loss of muscle strength and environmental hazards. As the disease progresses, he/she eventually forgets how to walk. In the early stages of the disease, the individual may be in good shape, walking with ease, but others in this stage may start having difficulties even before memory impairment becomes evident. (Some studies have shown that the decline in gait — the way the individual moves their legs when they walk — is an early indicator of the first decline in cognition). As the disease progresses, there is definitive decline in muscle strength, flexibility, walking and balance.
Regular exercise can help improve that balance, strength and agility. But, first, get a referral from the physician for a balance and gait assessment. A physical therapist can recommend suitable balance and strengthening exercises and may suggest your father use a walker or cane.
Also, review all your father’s medications with the doctor. Some drugs, including medications for blood pressure, depression, pain, overactive bladder, sleeping issues and antipsychotics increase fall risk. Ask if these medications are absolutely necessary or if the dosage can be reduced.
Also assess your father’s living space. Remove clutter and make sure regular pathways are cleared. Remove all floor rugs and use non-slip bath mats in the tub or shower. Install grab bars near the toilet and shower and handrails in the hallways.
Poor vision is common and can lead to falls, so make sure lighting is adequate, paying careful attention to glares or shadows. Finally, make sure your dad’s shoes fit well, provide good support and have nonslip soles.
Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.