Aging bodies may put older adults at risk for falling, but for those living with Parkinson’s disease (PD), falling is twice as likely and can be a frequent complication. Since April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, we’re highlighting practical steps you can take to understand PD and create a fall prevention strategy to keep your senior loved one healthy, active and injury-free.
Why are falls a frequent complication in those with Parkinson’s?
A number of factors can contribute to an individual’s fall risk. First, it’s important to know that Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder that affects the nervous system and the parts of the body controlled by the nerves. Dopamine (neurotransmitter) is the chemical messenger primarily responsible for controlling movement, emotional responses and the ability to feel pleasure and pain.
In an adult living with PD, the cells that make dopamine are impaired. As the disease progresses, more dopamine-producing brain cells die or stop working, further complicating issues with balance, posture and gait.
What factors contribute to fall risk?
Symptoms are generally classified as motor and non-motor symptoms. Motor symptoms are the physical symptoms you’ll see, like tremors, limb stiffness (also known as rigidity), gait and balance problems (postural instability), and slowness and paucity of movement (referred to as bradykinesia and hypokinesia).
For some adults, non-motor symptoms like depression, anxiety, apathy, hallucinations, constipation, sleep disorders, and a variety of cognitive impairments, can be more challenging and disabling than movement (motor) symptoms.
In addition to motor and non-motor symptoms, fall risk factors also include:
Vision changes. Blurry or double vision can throw someone off balance
Orthostatic hypotension. Known as a drop in blood pressure when standing up or sitting down can cause dizziness
Environmental hazards. Sometimes one’s living space can present a number of challenges. For example, rugs and power cords are easy to trip over and insufficient lighting limits visibility when navigating around the house at night
Steps you can take to prevent falls
To ensure your senior loved one’s safety, consider having their doctor conduct a fall risk assessment. By knowing their physical and mental limitations, you and their care team can create the best course of action. Other considerations include:
Creating a familiar space: Allow your family member to familiarize themselves within a given space. It’s helpful for them to know where they can grab onto, what areas they can access, and how to move with ease. Avoid moving furniture around or introducing new pieces of furniture.
Avoid rubber or gripping soled shoes: Depending on the type of flooring within your home, rubber-soled shoes can “catch” on specific surfaces.
Move slowly when changing positions: Orthostatic hypotension, or a sudden drop in blood pressure can cause dizziness or temporary loss of consciousness. It occurs when an individual moves from a seated position to a standing position, or from lying down to sitting up or standing. Make sure your family member takes their time.
Consider a walking aid: It’s possible your loved one might need more assistance when moving around or shifting from one position to another. Some options like carts, walkers or rollators can provide added stability.
Do one thing at a time: Avoid multitasking while walking anywhere. Staying focused on the task at hand, walking, can help someone avoid tripping hazards and more.
Physical therapy/exercise: Through physical therapy, an older adult living with PD can increase their mobility and endurance, improve posture and gait, and reduce freezing, muscle stiffness, and pain. It can also improve non-motor symptoms like anxiety and fatigue.
Parkinson’s & Presidio Home Care Aides
Presidio Home Care Aides know living with Parkinson’s disease over the course of a lifetime is unique to each person. Whether it’s by keeping your loved one active and engaged, helping them establish a routine, or driving them to appointments, our passionate professionals are ready to provide the care you need to ensure their safety and improve quality of life. Contact us today to learn more.