Dementia’s Impact on Fall Risks

The National Council on Aging has many resources to help adults build a foundation for longevity and prevent falls.  Currently, 1 in 3 adults 65+ falls each year.  Fall risks are usually the product of a combination between physical condition and environment; however, individuals with dementia are actually 4-5 times more likely to experience falls than older people without the disease.  There are many different types of brain disease that cause a wide range of physical and mental complications.  Here are a few common ways that dementia increases the risk of a  fall and what to watch for in a loved one with dementia:

Disorientation:  A large part of our stability involves awareness of surroundings, judging distances, knowing where we are and what we can expect from our environment.  When individuals with dementia become disoriented not only can they lose their ability to judge an environment properly, their increase anxiety puts them at greater risk.

Changes in gait and mobility:  As parts of the brain that coordinate our fine and gross motor skills are impacted by dementia, the way we walk and move changes dramatically.  Some types of dementia such as Parkinson’s can have a greater impact on ambulation and coordinating movement.  These changes may occur slowly over time and often a fall will alert family to the extent of the changes.

Changes in vision, hearing, and balance:  Our senses naturally decline with age; however for those with a dementia, the parts of the brain that coordinate our hearing, vision, and balance can be greatly impacted very quickly.  Any one of these senses contributes to our stability as we make our way through our homes and communities.

No memory of present condition/ mobility limits:  The different types of dementia are often associated with a range of difficult behaviors.  These may include yelling, unfiltered speech, repeating questions, refusal of care, etc.  Wandering is quite common in those with dementia as well as a desire to return home for those in a memory care facility.  This behavior uniquely impacts the risk of a fall as individuals can be so focused on getting where they are going that they are not able to take precautions in moving safely.  Increased agitation can compound this situation as well.

Dehydration:  As we age, we naturally feel less thirsty.  This can put seniors at risk for dehydration and range of other complications such as urinary tract infections.  For those with dementia who are not able to remember their needs, this is particularly an issue.  Dizziness or lightheadedness and headache from dehydration can greatly increase the risk of a fall in addition to these other complications.

Difficulty problem solving and adapting to new environments:  Many times families will rely on professional facilities to provide nursing and day-to-day care for a loved one with dementia, especially during the mid to end stages of the disease.  Adapting to these new environments would be difficult for anyone, but especially for those with dementia.  Confusion and an inability to problem solve can increase the risk of a fall as individuals with dementia lose their sense of what is safe or not safe to do in a particular environment.

Hallucinations/ delusions:  Some types of dementia can cause individuals to have hallucinations or delusions.  These types of experiences can erroneously heighten their sense of danger and cause them to behave rashly.   The increased anxiety and false sense of reality can increase the risk of a fall.

Lack of judgement/ inhibition:  The frontal lobe of the brain is the command center, filter and brake pedal for our actions.  It is the rational voice that says, you probably shouldn’t say that or do that action.  When dementia impacts this part of the brain, those filters and brake pedals deteriorate and no longer inhibit individuals with the disease.  This changed judgement and fading access to memory can greatly increase the risk of a fall as the individual may no longer be able to appropriately judge the limits of their environment and body.

If you are a caregiver providing or coordinating care for a loved one with dementia, we understand how complex and emotionally challenging the responsibility can be.  Our well-being has many components.  In fact, our lives are surrounded by a complex web of needs and desires.  When a loved one is diagnosed with a type of dementia, it is common for a spouse or adult children to become the hub of care, managing several categories of needs.  Professional Care Managers are pivotal in assisting families at the hub to simplify, coordinate, and proactively guide the care of a love one.

Side note from the blogger:  This is an article I found from a publication put out for seniors in my community.  The publication is produced by our sheriff’s office and is called S.A.L.T. (Seniors and Law Enforcement Together) Times.  The only notation as to it’s original source is Sound Options.  I would like to give proper credit to the original writer of this article, if anyone can help me find the author I will make sure they’re given credit where credit is due.

 

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Sometimes only a fellow veteran can help

This wonderfully touching story happened here locally.  A dementia patient who was reverting back to his time in Vietnam with the Air Force – he thought he needed to report back to duty and nothing the family or staff told him helped.

So a plea was put out on social media for a hail mary pass, was there someone who could show up in uniform to let him know his service was over?

Read here for the outcome of the hail mary pass: The war is over

Project Lifesaver – Peace of mind for the caregiver

My father was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia at the age of 53.  He was physically quite fit, although his mind was slipping away.

It started becoming routine that Dad would start walking away, in the store, from the house, just about anywhere.  I can recall trying to convince my dad to return to the house while he was walking out of the neighborhood towards a very busy high speed roadway with little to no pedestrian area.  At one point he told me that if I didn’t leave him alone he would call the police (he didn’t know who I was at that time) I remember responding to please call the police (I knew they would help me get him home).  In the end he returned home without police intervention and no major problems but I was shaking and terrified.  I know that my siblings and mom also have similar memories.

Dad’s wandering was hardest on Mom, she had to be worried about him getting up in the middle of the night, wandering off and getting lost.  She did some research to see if there was anything out there that would help and she found Project Lifesaver that was being operated through our local sheriff’s office.

This isn’t a GPS device or really any super fancy tech.  It’s remarkable in its’ simplicity.  A watch-like device is fastened to the wrist of the dementia patient much like a hospital ID wristband is attached.  In the “watch” part is a simple radio transmitter on a unique frequency and a battery all in a waterproof case.

The idea is if the dementia patient wanders and is missing the sheriff’s department can send out cars to the last known location with devices to listen for the unique frequency and signal and triangulate the current location of the dementia patient.

A deputy sheriff would come out once a month to replace the device to ensure the battery was always working at  100%.

Take a look into their services here: Project Lifesaver  You can check to see if they are working with the police or sheriff’s department in your area.  If they aren’t encourage your local department to become involved.

Project Life Saver

Wandering is such a worry for those of us who care for a loved one with dementia.  It seems that I cannot go a single day without hearing of someone wandering from their home or care facility.  We had such worries with my dad and found Project Life Saver through our local sheriff’s office.  A simple device attached to his wrist like a watch gave us peace of mind, knowing that if he did slip out of our notice we would be able to find him.

Go to their website to see if Project Life Saver is in your area or learn how to get them in your area. Project Life Saver

Technology and dementia

I love seeing how technology can be used to help those with dementia.  I actually used google maps with one of my clients to take a “drive” down the streets of her hometown in another state.  She was amazed, but to be able to do this on a larger scale with them providing the direction and “mode of locomotion” is even better!  Watch this video, I’d love to see this being used everywhere!

Google, bicycle and dementia!