According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls by the elderly are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in Americans. Every year, one-third of Americans ages 65+ fall, resulting in 2.8 million injuries, 800,000 hospitalizations, and more than 27,000 deaths. In 2013, the total cost of falls was $34 billion, with that number expected to hit $67 billion by 2020.
And while the statistics in general are sobering, the fact that many of us have elderly family members brings this reality closer to home. As part of Fall National Prevention Week, our desire is to raise awareness of the dangers of falls and help you prevent falls.
The Cause of Falls
There are numerous reasons elderly people fall, but some common ones include:
- Decreasing strength in the legs. Muscle strength is one of the key causes of falls, and as people get older, they lose strength and endurance in their leg muscles.
- Balance and gait. Older men and women with poor balance are much more likely to fall. This imbalance can be caused by neurological conditions, arthritis, or a variety of other medical conditions.
- Blood pressure conditions. Conditions such as postural hypotension cause rapid drops in blood pressure when a person rises from a lying position. This rapid drop leads to dizziness and falls.
- Slower reflexes. As the body ages, the reflexes slow, making it more difficult for an elderly person to catch themselves if they begin falling.
- Medications. Certain medications cause increased dizziness and unsteadiness, creating a higher risk of falling.
Why Falls Are Such A Concern
As a person gets older, his or her ability to recover from a simple fall dramatically decreases. Bones become significantly weaker, especially in those who have osteoporosis. Because bones are more brittle, they are much more likely to break after a fall and much slower to heal afterwards.
A younger body can recover quickly after a fall, even if a bone is broken, but this is not the case for many elderly people. A broken bone may require sedation and surgery, which can increase the risk of further complications.
Recovering from a broken bone can take months and require significant follow up treatment at medical facilities, and the longer an elderly person is in the hospital, the less likely they’ll be able to care for themselves upon release. In a study done by the University of Mississippi, only 22% of seniors were able to effectively care for themselves after being released from the hospital after a fall.
Even more frightening, falls can result in traumatic brain injuries. The CDC reported that brain trauma caused 41% of all fatalities related to falls.
How To Prevent Falls
The danger of falls can never be eliminated entirely, but steps can be taken to minimize the risk.
- When possible remove clutter, throw rugs, and low-lying furniture, all of which are prominent tripping hazards. Additionally, install grab bars in bathrooms and other potentially slippery areas.
- Check all medications for possible side effects that increase the risk of falling. In particular, be on the lookout for medicines which cause dizziness or eyesight problems.
- Encourage exercise whenever possible, which can increase coordination, strengthen bones and muscles, and minimize the serious consequences of a fall.
- Have bone density and vision tested. Appropriate testing will reveal issues such as osteoporosis, which harms the bones, or cataracts, which clouds the eyes.
While falls are usually inconsequential for young people, they can be deadly for the elderly. Appropriate awareness, prevention, and medical treatment can minimize the risk and consequences of falls.
For more information, visit: http://eldercareflorida.com/aging-issues/falls-prevention/