April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. The Aging Life Care Association® will be featuring articles that raise awareness of Parkinson’s Disease and the ways Aging Life Care Professionals® can support clients and families affected.
by Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA
According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, an estimated 7 to 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic and progressive movement disorder for which there is no cure. For people living with Parkinson’s, falls are a frequent and hazardous complication because of the symptoms related to Parkinson’s – muscular stiffness, freezing, shuffling gait, balance impairment or stooped posture.
If you have Parkinson’s and live alone, being proactive and planning ahead can help you reduce your fall risk and maintain your independence. Gait is one of the most affected motor characteristics of Parkinson’s disease (PD). While it affects each person differently, falls are a common challenge to address. The Parkinsonian gait is characterized by small shuffling steps and a general slowness. For those living with PD, reduced stride length and walking speed are common, as well as difficulty starting, and difficulty stopping after starting. Poor balance and unstable posture can also lead to increased falls. It is important to always report these to your physician.
There are several things you can do to be proactive around the house in an attempt to reduce falls for people living with Parkinson’s disease:
1. Before you start a movement, get your balance. If necessary, hold on to something until you feel steady, and then start forward motion.
2. Consider physical therapy programs. You can learn exercises to help maintain balance and movement.
3. Find a community support group. You can share success strategies with others diagnosed with PD.
4. Recognize that at some point a piece of mobility equipment may be necessary to help keep you safe. With all the choices on the market, you can find something that fits your lifestyle.
5. Arrange furniture to create a clear walking path. You can place furniture in strategic places to provide a place to hold onto if you lose your balance.
6. Remove throw rugs and narrow carpet runners. These can create an edge that may cause you to trip or catch your foot.
7. Pay attention to your footwear. Socks may be too slippery but heavy soles may catch or make it harder to lift your foot. See a specialist to get the right pair of shoes.
8. Have grab bars or secure rails placed in strategic places. These allow for increased balance and something to safely grab for support. Use a professional to properly install them.
9. Make sure you have adequate lighting, especially at night.
10. Keep the products you use on a routine basis between eye and waist level. You don’t want to have to bend down or reach up to get an item. There is no need to create unnecessary risk.
11. Place reflective tape on steps. This helps with depth perception.
12. Consider an emergency alert button. If you do have a fall, these aids provide you with a way to call for help. Do not assume you can get to a phone.
The PD symptoms that can impact your gait can progress over time. Be in tune to changes that you experience and put safety measures in place before you need them. Create a safety net in your environment to enable you to remain as independent as possible. If you are in need of specific recommendations for your home, find a certified aging-in-place specialist, Parkinson’s specialty clinic, or an Aging Life Care Manager™ who can help you assess your home environment and provide you with additional feedback and resources.
About the author: Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA is the CEO of Aging Outreach Services in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Amy also serves as the President of the Southeast Chapter of the Aging Life Care Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.