Column: Recognizing dementia symptoms, preventing falls in patients


Commentary by Linda Barnes

Dementia is an ongoing decline of the brain and its abilities to function. Symptoms include difficulty problem solving, communication, and decreased memory.

Which stage of dementia do falls happen the most?

Stage 6 is high risk for falls because of confusion, decreased physical coordination and disorientation, although, falls can happen at any stage of dementia.

Incidence of falls with dementia

Falls happen almost twice than that of cognitively intact individuals. Most falls occur at home, about 6 percent happen in the bathroom, on the stairs, or in the bedroom.

Why do dementia patients tend to fall more than others?

Problems with memory, poor judgement/insight, depression and inability to express their needs. Other problems include weakness, lack of exercise, decreased balance, decreased vision and depth perception.

What are the risk factors?

The fear of falling, medication side effects, depression, visual-depth perception and wearing the wrong type of shoes. There are many other intrinsic and external risk factors that play a part as well.

What are some consequences of falls?

Acceleration of the dementia process, decrease socialization because of fear of falling, loss of independence, chronic pain and depression. Fractures can occur because of bones being more fragile, which can lead to surgery, and recovery time from healing can be increased.

How to reduce/prevent falls

Limit distractions when walking, slower paced walk, ensure a clutter-free environment and the avoidance of overuse of narcotics. The use of contrasting colors, adequate lighting in a room, adaptive equipment such as rails, etc., can assist in the avoidance of falls. Regular exercise and an exercise program can potentially slow the progression of dementia.

Linda Barnes is an occupational therapist and owner/president of Therapy On Wheels. If you have a loved one who has dementia, is having difficulty getting up or down from their chair, has fallen, or has decreased balance/strength, Therapy On Wheels can help. Our occupational and physical therapists come to your home, so you do not have to go out to a clinic for outpatient therapy. You do not have to be homebound to receive these services. Please call our office at 317-332-9861 for more information about our services and how we can help. Your physician can also fax orders to our office at 317- 893-4453.