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Friday, May 05, 2006

Death by falling over

I am very sad to say, my wifes dad passed away on sunday. He was 84, but as a young man was an excellent athlete, a natural swimmer, track athlete and even played rugby for XYZ Province while the allblacks were on tour (away) one time.
3 years ago he could give me a good game of tennis.
Less than a year ago, he was knocked over by a dog and his hip broke.
He seems to have fallen into the category of people dying after a hip breakage, he died in his sleep in a home in XYZ Town.
What is the link between breaking a hip and a rapid demise in health resulting in death?
Gary Moller comments:
First of all my condolences are extended to the family. Knowing Anon reasonably well, I strongly advise that he gets some tennis coaching right away.

Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths and the most common cause of non-fatal injuries and and hospital admissions for trauma.
The cause of death is usually a blood clot in the lungs or elsewhere interrupting critical circulation. This is due to the frail state of the person, the immediate tissue trauma of the injury and the formation of blood clots at the injury site and from the immobilisation. Even if they recover from the fracture and are discharged, their even frailer state and the disability from the injury may be so great that their health never recovers and decline can be rapid, usually from pre-existing comorbidities, such as dementia. Getting a dose of the flu may be all that it takes to kill the debilitated person. Anon's family tragedy is being repeated several times daily.

I gained some further details from Anon and learned that his father in law had been on some kind of anti-depressant for many years, as well as medication for blood pressure. It is significant that he had recently gone into a managed care facility. Prior to his fall he had had a number of "turns" which could have been mild strokes. This came as no surprise. Unfortunately, for him and his family, the causes for his demise may have been put in place many years ago when that first pill was prescribed. Here is my speculation about what could have been going on:
  • One of the most accurate indicators of decline in health and independence is balance. Medications that are prescribed to alter mood and to control blood pressure may expedite the decline in balance and hasten dulling of the mental faculties. Refer to my article here that expands on this.
  • I will add that blood pressure medication does not cure blood pressure problems; it merely hides or suppresses the condition - the wolf remains at the door and the problem becomes more and more difficult to manage as time passes. The same can be said in many cases of prescribing mood altering drugs.
  • Blood pressure medication can cause "brain fog". I recall one insurance study several years ago that found that elderly drivers on blood pressure medication had a nine-fold increase in motor vehicle insurance claims as compared to their non-medicated peers.
  • Many of these medications can affect nutrition by causing unpleasant side-effects like cotton mouth and poor digestion. Up to 90% of some groups of elderly may suffer malnutrition. Read Should they Eat Cake?. Weak muscles, dementia/brain fog, osteoporosis and poor balance are killers when combined.
  • Medications that are being prescribed wholesale to osteoporotic patients nowadays may be causing disastrous problems down the line by hindering bone healing post fracture. Read this Blog
  • The "turns" that Anon described might have been the inevitable result of progressive cardiovascular disease, including excessively high blood pressure as medication becomes increasingly ineffective. Balance is usually seriously affected by these mini-strokes.
  • From personal observation, the very act of institutionalisation may bring about a rapid loss of independence and decline in health status. My article "Should they Eat Cake?" touches on this.
  • The survival of the debilitated old person, as per above, is under serious threat from a fall and prospects of making a good recovery are not good.
What can be done to prevent this sort of tragedy happening? The good news is that much can be done, including:
  • Blood pressure pills or not, implement agressive lifestyle and diet changes to address the underlying factors that cause blood pressure and otehr cardiovascular ailments. Go here for more information
    and go here
  • For mood and behavioural problems, seek drugs-free treatments, including exercise, nutrition and counselling.
  • If on medications, question the need and ask your Dr to help devise a plan to either reduce the dose, or preferably to get off them completely. Ask about drug-free alternatives and do not hesitate to seek second and third opinions.
  • Exercise vigorously 3-4 times a week. This can be walking and doing resistance exercise like gardening. The Myotec Pocket Gym is designed for safe use by the elderly to keep muscles and bones strong.
  • Get outdoors daily to get sunlight on the body. Vitamin D from sunlight + exercise + good nutrition = strong bones and many, many other health benefits.
  • If the day is sunless, then get a little Vitamin D (sometimes called cholecalcitrol) from a supplement like cod liver oil or Nutrimon (a low cost chewable multivit for kids; but fine for adults)
  • Get multivitamins, including the B Group and Vit C; multi minerals, especially calcium and magnesium; and omega3 oils into the daily diet right away and keep these in place during old age. I am running a special this month on the Red Seal Effergize multivitamin tablets.
  • Practice balancing skills now and into old age. This can be as simple as practicing balancing on either foot each day. This is also a good test to see if a new medication is affecting balance. (If balance deteriorates, go back to your Dr immediately and ask for a review). If you get really good at balancing on one leg, then try doing it with your eyes closed.
  • Keep agile: Take up tap dancing, martial arts and walk rutted and rooty trails at every opportunity. Ride a bike. Play tennis (get some professional coaching regardless of age and ability).
  • Design your house to be "fall friendly". Live in a single level swelling with no hard wood, tile or concrete floors. Fit natural wool carpets with thick underlays. Use non slip surfaces in showers, on steps and paths and light them well. Fit hand rails in bathrooms. Have a proper step ladder for getting up to high cupboards and for changing light bulbs.
If an elderly person is injured from a fall:
  • Insist on getting the best treatment by experienced doctors and do not tolerate any delays.
  • Make sure hospitalised person has a Guardian Angel appointed to look over them (more about this in a later article).
  • Insist on minimal medication and take the opportunity of hospital monitoring to safely get off any unnecessary drugs that were prescribed in the past.
  • Insist on high standards of personal hygiene by everyone, including the cleaning of Dr's stethoscopes between patients. Refer to my article about hospital infections.
  • Get them onto a Super Smoothie and extra vitamins and minerals as well as Omega3 oil like flaxseed oil quickly. (Discuss the Omega3 oil with the Drs first if the patient is on anticoagulants, because these oils have similar properties and the medication might need to be adjusted). You can either make up the Smoothie at home and bring into hospital, or make it by the bedside with a small blender. The fresher the better. The hospital food will only serve to add to an already malnourished state and healing will be seriously compromised.
Finally, ACC have a number of excellent injury prevention resources to prevent falls. Go here for them.


Wayne said...

as people get older their circulation decilnes, cholesterol clogs up the blood vesseles, blood clots are far more likely to completley block blood vessels having more serious consequences as a result, fish oils and flax seed lil help to reduce excessive blood clotting and reduce the effects of cholesterol clogging up the blood vessels
even red meat with the fat cut out of it still contains cholesterol in it, animal fat contains high amounts of cholesterol, vegetable fat contains none.

Anonymous said...

Interesting website with a lot of resources and detailed explanations.