Senior Falls Can Be Deadly – Here’s What You Can Do
One reason our family practice doctors at Cohen Medical Associates in Delray Beach are so concerned about our senior patients falling is because one quarter of seniors who fall and fracture a hip will die within six months of their injury.
And other statistics regarding senior falls are just as sobering:
- Falls are the leading cause of death from injury among people 65 and older.
- The risk of falls increases with age, and is greater for women than for men: Over half of seniors aged 80 and older fall every year.
What’s more, the rate of seniors falling appears to be increasing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report recently showing that seniors are experiencing concussions and other brain injuries at unprecedented rates, leading to increased emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths. The CDC report said that one in every 45 Americans 75 and older suffered brain injuries as a result of a fall, a 76 percent spike from 2007.
Monday, September 23rd (the first day of Fall), has been designated by the CDE in concert with the National Council on Aging (NCOA) as Falls Prevention Awareness Day to increase awareness of and to help spread the word about how to prevent fall-related injuries and deaths.
Special concerns for seniors
Older people tend to experience falls at a significantly higher rate than do younger people for numerous reasons, but the CDC report found the spike among seniors to be alarming. The report did not attribute the increase to any one factor, but its authors surmised that because a growing number of older Americans are living at home alone, they are falling more often.
“Many older adults are afraid their independence will be taken away if they admit to falling, and so they minimize it,” Dr. Lauren Southerland, an Ohio State University emergency physician who specializes in geriatric care, told the Associated Press (AP).
Because older people are more likely to have impaired vision, dizziness, and other such health issues, as well as a lack of the strength and the agility to find their feet once they lose their balance, they not only fall more often than younger people, but one fall leads to a cascading effect of more falls with more injuries. In one study, Dr. Southerland and other Ohio State researchers found that more than a third of older adults with minor head injuries end up back in the ER within 90 days.
In addition, the CDC says that, because four out of every five older adults take at least one prescription medication daily, and more than a third take five or more each day, this common risk factor increases their chances of falling.
Many older Americans take medications for sleep disorders, anxiety, high blood pressure, or chronic pain. Side effects from these drugs can change the way a person feels or thinks and can cause drowsiness, loss of balance, changes in vision, slower reaction time, and other effects that increase the risk of falling. These side effects can increase or even start for the first time, as we get older.
There are numerous steps you can take to prevent falls.
Clean up clutter
Survey your home for tripping triggers and unsafe areas. Pick up items from the floor, use double-sided tape to secure throw rugs, and ensure cords and cables are out of the way.
Install handrails on both sides of staircases, and add grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower. Don’t be embarrassed to use a cane or walker if we recommend one for you. They’re better than falling.
Add light throughout the home to aid in visual perception, including night lights in every room, especially the bedroom, hallway, and bathroom.
Have your eyes checked
Falls occur more frequently among seniors who have vision issues. Have your eyes checked at least once a year, and update your glasses to ensure optimal vision.
Improve your balance
Perform strength and balance exercises to improve your muscle tone and increase your balance. Tai Chi, a gentle routine of slow-motion exercises, has been shown repeatedly to not only increase balance, but to decrease dizziness, a common cause of falls. Other exercises that improve stability and balance include yoga, bicycling, walking, and water workouts.
Finally, let us know about all medications—prescription, over-the-counter (OTC), and supplements—you take. Especially with the latter, you may view them as harmless, but all such substances carry a risk of side effects. We can help you determine whether any of these might impair your balance.