November 26th, 2010 at 1:26 pm
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When Elder Falls are Close to Home and Heart for Caregivers

by Isabel Fawcett, SPHR

I’ve read and am intimately familiar with the Centers for Disease Control’s statistics and other information pertaining to elderly falls. Regrettably, I also have an unwanted bird’s eye view of elder falls by virtue of being a caregiver to my octogenarian mother. As I suspect many of my fellow caregivers might say if asked, I’d rather have been bypassed by life for the dubious distinction of having anything to do with such a dreadful and emotionally distressing statistic. Regrettably, I was not so lucky.

On Thanksgiving Day, I was more than revved-up to kick off our holiday season 2010 – 2011. My plans included a non-traditional, soul-nurturing Thanksgiving Day menu homemade with love. My Thanksgiving Day agenda included making rich beef and vegetable soup and Mom’s holiday spice cake, among other favorites. Later in the day, I’d planned to put out our simple, lit Christmas display and decorations. It was not lost on me that life is what happens when you and I are making other (holiday) plans.

My sugar-plum holiday visions came to a screeching halt in the twinkling of an eye. I was about to serve our soup as soon as I’d taken out the trash when, well, life happened. I heard my mother calmly call my name as I’d started walking back into the kitchen. “I can’t hear you, Mom. I’m coming.” So calm was my mother’s voice that I didn’t realize that Mom had fallen – in the split second it had taken me to step into my garage to dispose of our trash and return to my kitchen.

Although I was stunned, I did all of the “right” – better make that prudent – steps a caregiver might do in such care circumstances. I quickly got on the floor to be at eye-level with my mother while simultaneously taking mental note of what all had fallen along with Mom, and how the fallen home accessories had landed. All offered me valuable clues about Mom’s fall, and the parts of her body she may have hit on the way down.

Other than being short of breath from the trauma of falling, Mom was mentally alert and actively strategizing about how she could best get herself back to a standing position in short order. I stood behind her to steady her back and to help her stand, if she could. I lifted, and held on to my mother for dear life.

I could tell when our caregiver-lift and elder-effort strategy quickly turned a positive corner. It was when my mother thanked me – even though she was still struggling to make it to her feet even as I struggled to not lose my body’s lifting momentum. Mom’s words were a clue that she would give the last burst of energy required to resume her standing position. She made it, and, somehow, so did I.

Prior to Mom’s single verbal acknowledgement of elder-caregiver collaboration, everything else had been a roll of the dice, and a blur. That’s how things are when it comes to falls and elders.

Elder falls can be severe, and, sometimes fatal. In 2007, more than 18,000 elders reportedly died from fall-related injuries. In 2008, one of my friends’ Moms died from injuries sustained in a fall. My friend’s mother and my Mom both fell around the same time in 2008, as a matter of fact. I cried when I learned that my friend’s Mom had not survived her 2008 fall.

Falls are caregivers’ and elders’ nemesis. In the twinkling of an eye elders fall – ¡Ojo, por favor! [Translation: Keep an eye on that, fellow caregivers - please.]

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