Fall prevention is an important part of the job of family caregivers and others providing senior care for a loved one. It demands a lot of attention, as well as changes in the home, to improve mobility and reduce fall risk.
The risk of injuries when falling increases as the person ages and is higher for women, in particular after menopause begins, due to a decrease in estrogen levels. Lower levels of this hormone reduces the amount of calcium in the bones, weakening them and making them more susceptible to fracture in the case of a fall.
Every second of every day, a person 65 or older falls in the United States. According to studies published by the CDC (Center for Disease Control), more than 25% of older adults reported falling and more than 27,000 persons over 65 years old died as a result of falls in 2014 alone. Falling once doubles the chances of someone falling again. And, what is worse, every 20 minutes an older adult dies from a fall.
Falls are very serious and costly to our society. According to the CDC:
- 20% of falls are serious causing injuries such as bone fractures or a head injury;
- Falls account for 25% of all hospital and 40% of all nursing home admissions. Around 40% of those admitted are not able to live independently again and one in every four dies within a year;
- Each year, 2.8 million older people receive hospital emergency treatment for fall injuries; 800,000 end up hospitalized, mainly when there is a head injury or hip fracture;
- Each year at least 300,000 persons over 65 years old are hospitalized for hip fractures. More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling. The chances of breaking your hip go up as you get older;
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries;
- The direct medical costs for fall injuries are $31 billion annually. Two thirds of this amount is spent in hospitals.
- The incidence of hip fractures in the elderly is increasing worldwide, with 650,000 fractures expected in the United States by the year 2050, according to research published by the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, of the Oregon Health & Sciences University.
What are the consequences of a fall?
Not every fall causes injuries. But one out of five falls does hurt someone seriously, breaking bones or causing a head injury. These injuries can make it hard for a person to get around, do everyday activities, or live independently.
The severity of a hip fracture is also higher, the older the person is. Hip fractures and head injuries can be particularly serious, especially if the person is taking certain medicines (like blood thinners). A hip fracture usually demands a surgical procedure, followed by prolonged physical therapy. An older person who falls and hits their head should see their doctor right away to make sure they don’t have a concussion or brain injury.
Many people who fall become afraid of falling again, even if they haven’t been injured. This fear may cause a person to start avoiding their everyday activities. When a person is less active, they become weaker and this increases their chances of falling and the risk of serious injuries, in case it happens.
Fall Risk: What Conditions Make You More Likely to Fall?
According to the CDC, research has identified many conditions that contribute to falling. These are called risk factors. Many risk factors can be changed or modified to help prevent falls. They include:
- Vitamin D deficiency (that is, not enough vitamin D in your system)
- Difficulties with walking and balance
- Use of medicines, such as tranquilizers, sedatives, or antidepressants. Even some over-the-counter medicines can affect balance and how steady you are on your feet.
- Vision problems
- Lower body weakness
- Foot pain or poor footwear
- Home hazards or dangers such as broken or uneven steps; throw rugs or clutter that can be tripped over, and no handrails along stairs or in the bathroom.
Most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling.
What You Can Do to Prevent Falls
Falls can be prevented. Here are some simple things you can do to keep yourself from falling, suggested by the CDC.
- Speak up:
- Ask your doctor or healthcare provider to evaluate your risk for falling and talk with them about specific things you can do.
- Ask him to review your medicines to see if any might make you dizzy or sleepy. This should include prescription medicines and over-the counter medicines.
- Ask about taking vitamin D supplements.
- Do Strength and Balance Exercises: some exercises make your legs stronger and improve your balance. Tai Chi is a good example of this kind of exercise.
- Check your eyes:
- See an eye doctor at least once a year, and be sure to update your eyeglasses if needed.
- If you have bifocal or progressive lenses, you may want to get a pair of glasses with only your distance prescription for outdoor activities, such as walking. Sometimes these types of lenses can make things seem closer or farther away than they really are.
- Make Your Home Safer
- Get rid of things you could trip over;
- Add grab bars in the bathroom, inside and outside your tub or shower and next to the toilet;
- Put railings on both sides of stairs;
- Make sure your home has lots of light by adding more or brighter light bulbs;
- Ask help from neighbors or family when doing tasks that could become dangerous, like changing light bulbs;
Medical alert systems
Medical alert systems are devices that someone can wear to immediately ask for help after an eventual fall. Although they will not prevent older people from falling, they may increase the chances of survival up to 80% after an immobilizing fall happens.
Many falls do not result in injuries, but 47% of those who fall and are not injured cannot get up without assistance.
The period of time spent immobile after a fall can have serious consequences for the health outcome of the person who fell, even if not injured by the fall. Dehydration, muscle cell breakdown, pressure sores, hypothermia, and pneumonia are complications that may result.