Falls among seniors have become a significant concern within healthcare, and for a good reason. Every year, millions of older adults suffer from falls, resulting in injuries, hospitalizations, and even fatalities. In fact, every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. While it may seem like a common occurrence that comes with age, the dangers of falling for seniors are often underestimated.
Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries among seniors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every four adults aged 65 and older falls each year. These falls often lead to severe injuries such as fractures, head traumas, and hip fractures. Sadly, falls also increase the risk of premature death among seniors.
Understanding the Causes
Several factors increase the susceptibility of seniors to falls. And it’s essential to understand these causes to develop strategies for prevention.
Physical Decline: As people age, their bodies naturally experience a decline in muscle strength, flexibility, and bone density. These changes can lead to instability and difficulty maintaining balance.
Chronic Health Conditions: Seniors often contend with chronic health issues such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. These conditions can affect mobility and coordination, making falls more likely.
Medications: Many seniors take multiple medications, some of which can have side effects like dizziness and drowsiness, further increasing the risk of falling. Almost 90 percent of seniors take at least one prescription drug, 80 percent take at least two, and 36 percent take at least five different medications. These percentages don’t even include dietary supplements or over-the-counter drugs. It’s very common for seniors to experience some sort of drug interaction due to mixing medications or having an adverse effect as a result of a food-drug interaction.
Environmental Hazards: A cluttered living space, inadequate lighting, loose rugs, and slippery surfaces are environmental hazards that can lead to falls.
Lack of Physical Activity: A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to muscle weakness and reduced balance, increasing the risk of falling.
The Dangers of Falling
Falls can have far-reaching consequences for seniors. When you think of someone falling, you naturally think of them hurting themselves. Yes, that is a huge danger concerning falls in seniors. However, the dangers of falling for seniors can affect both their physical and emotional well-being.
Injuries: Falls can result in broken bones, head injuries, and bruises. These injuries often require hospitalization and rehabilitation, affecting seniors’ quality of life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls result in more than three million injuries that are treated in emergency departments annually, which include over 800,000 hospitalizations.
Fear and Anxiety: After experiencing a fall, seniors may become anxious about falling again, leading to a cycle of reduced physical activity and social isolation.
Loss of Independence: Severe injuries from falls can lead to a loss of independence, as seniors may no longer be able to live on their own or perform daily activities without assistance. Many seniors are forced to move into an assisted living facility or nursing home.
Financial Costs: The healthcare costs associated with falls are substantial, both for individuals and society as a whole. Each year, we spend $754 million on medical costs related to fatal falls, in addition to $50 billion related to non-fatal.
Preventing falls among seniors is crucial for preserving their health and independence. Here are some strategies to consider.
Regular Exercise: Engaging in physical activities that improve strength, balance, and flexibility can help seniors maintain mobility and reduce the risk of falling. Seniors should partake in balance exercises several times a week to build core strength.
Medication Management: Seniors should regularly review their medications with their healthcare providers to identify and address any side effects that could contribute to falls. All medications should be kept in their original bottles to prevent dosage mix-ups.
Home Safety: There are several home modifications that can be completed to reduce the risk of falling for seniors. Removing tripping hazards such as rugs and cords can eliminate potential risks. Installing handrails and grab bars in bathrooms and improving lighting to create a safer living environment can also help to reduce fall risks.
Regular Health Check-ups: Seniors should have regular check-ups to monitor their overall health and address any underlying medical conditions. Providers can check seniors’ balance to ensure they are steady and stable and don’t require further attention or assistance.
Foot Care: Proper footwear and foot care are essential to maintain stability. Sandals often create tripping hazards for seniors by slipping off their feet or getting caught in something like a rug.
We should not underestimate the dangers of falling for seniors. Falls can have devastating consequences on their health, independence, and overall quality of life. By understanding the factors contributing to falls and taking preventative measures, you can help yourself or a senior loved one enjoy a safer and more fulfilling life as they age.