Keeping an Older Frail Person Safe
As we age, we become increasingly frail and our risk of falls increases. Here’s how to ensure an elderly person remains safe in their own home.
Frailty in later life can be a real concern for the elderly. According to the website, NHS Choices, older people have an increased risk of having a fall. Indeed, falls are the most common cause of injury-related deaths in those over 75. As we age, we may develop problems with balance and our muscles become weaker. Our vision may also be impaired and conditions like heart disease and low blood pressure can cause dizziness and loss of consciousness. All these factors make us more prone to trips and falls which can result in injuries and fractures, leading to hospital visits that could have been avoided. In later life, our appetite can also decline, partly because we’re not so active and therefore not generating such a healthy appetite.
A person with dementia can lose interest in food for a variety of reasons. They might forget to eat or may find meals a struggle to prepare or consume. They may develop cravings for sweet foods, which can result in them skipping healthy, nutritious meals for unhealthy, sugary snacks that may disrupt their blood sugar levels, therefore affecting their energy levels, too.
Following a healthy, balanced diet and having regular meals is key to maintaining good energy levels and ensuring the person has a resilient immune system that can fight off bugs and infections. If you are caring for an elderly person, here are some things you can try to encourage them to eat regularly. These tips should also be useful when caring for a person with dementia:
- Ensure that foods look and smell appealing.
- Try smaller food portions, so they are not overwhelmed by a large plate of food piled high. ‘Little and often’ is a good mantra to go by.
- If they are struggling to chew, try soups, smoothies or milkshakes to boost calorie intake or consider softer foods, such as scrambled egg.
- Know that taste buds may diminish, so foods might need to be stronger or sweeter than usual, to remain appealing.
- If the person refuses to eat, don’t force them. Simply try again later.
- Let them eat what they fancy, even if they only want to eat dessert.
- Cut up food for them if they cannot manage it.
- If they are struggling to remember how to use cutlery, offer them a selection of tempting finger foods like nuggets and sandwiches to ensure they can eat without any complications.
If you are caring for an elderly relative, regularly check their food storage. Make sure their cupboards are free from out of date foods that can cause stomach bugs or illness, and make sure that cheese, meats and milk are stored in the fridge. Certain foods should of course be kept in the freezer instead of in the fridge. Bear in mind that the person may no longer be capable of deciphering use-by dates, or understanding why out-of-date food can no longer be eaten.
If the person has become accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle, it may well be that they are simply not using enough energy to become hungry. Encourage them to go for some gentle walks or see if they would like to join a class or take up a hobby, to burn some mental energy.
The benefits of exercise for the elderly are considerable. Weight-bearing exercise like walking can also strengthen bones, reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis where bones become brittle and can break more easily. If outdoor walks are not an option, encourage the person you are caring for to stay as mobile as possible around the house. Don’t leave them in an armchair sitting still for long periods of time. If they can’t walk unaided, encourage them to use a walking frame or similar mobility aid and move around in the house at regular intervals.
Dehydration can be common in the elderly. A person with dementia can very easily become dehydrated. It could be they are unable to recognise they are thirsty or can no longer communicate the need to drink. They might simply forget to drink, or in the latter stages, they might find it hard to swallow, as the brain struggles to send the correct signals to the mouth and throat.
Dehydration can cause confusion, headaches, constipation or a urinary tract infection, all of which can exacerbate the symptoms of dementia. Here are some things you can do to encourage the person to take in more fluid:
- Leave a jug of water by their bed or next to their favourite chair, so they don’t have to go to the kitchen every time they want a drink.
- Provide drinks in easy-to-hold, non-spill beakers, to reduce the change of spillage. An occupational therapist can advise you on the best options for your loved one.
- Add lemon, lime or orange slices, or mint leaves, to plain water, to make it more interesting.
- Leave reminders to drink around the house for the person with dementia.
- If they dislike water, offer foods with high water content, such as soup, watermelon or grapes (cut in half lengthways to prevent choking).
Finally, to help prevent the risk of falls, there are some safety measures you can try around in the home to help keep the person safe:
- Make sure lighting in rooms is good and avoid dimly lit areas.
- Avoid worn rugs or mats with curled edges that can cause trips.
- Make sure food and essential items aren’t stored in high cupboards where the person must reach up for them – make all key items easy to reach.
- Make sure the person has a clear path to the toilet – keep the bedroom free from obstacles that could cause bumps or falls. A commode in the bedroom may be useful to stop them from rushing to the toilet.