BONES AND GRAB BARS

While in the shower one day recently, a friend of ours dropped the soap. Limber and steady as he has always been, he bent over to pick up the soap and quickly straightened up again --- and thought “whoa” as he was overcome with a sudden sense of dizziness. He instinctly grabbed for something to hang onto, and the flimsy shower curtain was of no help at all. He also realized that the towel bar was not substantial enough to provide a secure hand-hold for him either. Fortunately, this time, he was able to steady himself by simply placing the palm of his hand flat and firmly on the wall.

This was a wake-up call for our friend. He has been an effective and thoughtful problem-solver all of his adult life. He admitted what we all know, none of us is getting any younger. And he has read about the dangers of falls and the often-devastating complications of falls for us, as a significant health hazard. And so, later that day, he arranged for a plumber to come and install grab bars in the bathroom--- near the tub/shower area, and on another wall in the bathroom where it appeared sensible to add an element of safety. As he said to me, “If people think grab bars in the home make me appear old and feeble, what do they think a broken would make me look like?”

The risks of falls and the complications from falls far out-weigh the health risks of some common diseases. According to the Center for Disease Control, every year one in three people over the age of 65 falls. A fall can cause fractures, head trauma, and early death, but falls are largely preventable. Strength-training exercises will improve balance and stability in walking; review your medications with your doctor and/or pharmacist to learn whether side effects may lead to dizziness; have your eyes checked annually; remove household hazards. The hazards that this refers to include things that contribute to falls, such as scatter rugs, swivel rockers, electrical cords, improper/inadequate lighting.

Falling is one thing, and breaking a bone makes it worse. Osteoporosis makes bones thin and more likely to break. It is a major reason for fractures in women past menopause, as well as older men. If bones are fragile, even a minor fall can cause fractures.

In order to maintain bone strength, be sure to include adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Read food labels, with the goal of having 1200 mg calcium daily, and 800 iu of vitamin D3. These dosages are recommended by the National Institute of Health/Senior Health division. Vitamin D is the “gate keeper” that enables the calcium to enter the bone cells, thus increasing bone strength.

[If you are still concerned about our friend who became dizzy in the shower, his dizziness is a very common health phenomenon called orthostatic hypotension, i.e. a harmless, brief drop in blood pressure. Frequent, severe, or prolonged dizziness is something to bring to the attention of your personal physician.]

Start your to-do list:

  • Remove all scatter rugs permanently;

  • Invest in, and use, nightlights in bedrooms, bathrooms, hallways, especially near stairs.

  • Never walk down stairs in the dark no matter how familiar you think it is and you've 'always done it.' Be sure that all stairways have hand rails on both sides.

  • Have those grab bars installed.

  • Supplement your diet with calcium and vitamin D3, both are available without prescription.

A prayer: Good and gracious God, thank you for your care for us and your tender mercies when our pride overrides our need for safety. Help us to recognize dangers, and accept helpful suggestions that preserve both our dignity and our independence. We pray that our bones will remain strong; give us the wisdom to remain safe, with reasonable accommodations. In Jesus holy name, amen.

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Dorothy Ellerbroek

The professional specialty of parish nursing combines nursing care and health ministry. In broad terms, my goals are to serve this faith community by fostering optimal health of body, mind, and spirit. I must admit that the best thing I do is to listen to others. My work involves visiting those who are homebound or ill; together with that, I may offer health counseling and education, referrals or resources for healthcare needs for all ages. The parish nurse works with volunteers, including the Health Ministry team, to bring programs and services to the congregation. To set up a time to meet with our parish nurse, email Dorothy or call the church office at (612) 927-8849.