There is almost nothing that can send a senior citizen on a physical and emotional downward spiral more quickly and thoroughly than a fall. The physical damage that results and the fear of another fall can combine to keep seniors from engaging in routine activities and enjoying the twilight years of their lives.
Not surprisingly, the risk of a fall increases with age. For older adults, falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence and injury deaths. One of three seniors will fall during this calendar year, but fewer than one-half of them will tell their doctors about it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…
- One out of five falls for a person 65 or older causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.
- Each year, 2.5 million older people are treated in emergency departments for injuries sustained in a fall.
- More than 700,000 people are hospitalized due to a fall injury annually, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.
- At least 250,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures every year.
- More than 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falling, usually by falling sideways.
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries.
- The direct medical costs for fall injuries, adjusted for inflation, are $34 billion annually. Hospital costs account for two-thirds of that total.
Regardless of whether you are a senior citizen or are nearing that stage in life, or have parents or other relatives in that age category, you should understand these facts and know how to establish a home environment where falls are less likely to occur.
Common Causes for Falls
How and why do falls occur for seniors? There are many answers, but we’ll only discuss some of the most common ones. Most often, fall-related injuries are in the hip, pelvis, spine, arm, hand or ankle. Although seniors can recover from most falls, many older adults who suffer hip injuries from falls end up requiring long-term care.
Many seniors feel dizzy after standing from a sitting position, especially if they’ve been sitting for a while. This could mean a drop in blood pressure, which makes the individual feel as if he or she is going to pass out.
It could also be due to the onset of diabetes or an issue with a medication or eyesight. That’s why it’s important that seniors report their falls – and near falls – to a doctor, even if they are not injured.
Sometimes a fall happens due to a loss of balance while walking or slipping on something they don’t see. Lower body weakness and a Vitamin D deficiency can also be contributing factors in a fall. Of course, home hazards are often to blame, including uneven steps and clutter.
Many seniors who have seen older friends and relatives fall develop a fear of falling, despite having never fallen themselves. While it’s important to be cautious, this fear can lead to avoiding the very activities that help make seniors less prone to experiencing a fall, such as walking and engaging in other social interactions. This fear can actually be debilitating for them.
Reducing the Risk of Falls
While it’s true that many seniors are injured by falls, it’s not an inevitable result of aging. Falls don’t have to occur. Many falls suffered by seniors every year didn’t have to happen. Here’s how you or your loved ones can decrease the odds of experiencing a fall in the home:
- Do exercises to improve balance and strengthen muscles. Tai chi is a great method for accomplishing this, but also ask your doctor for other suggestions.
- Get rid of the clutter. An organized home free of boxes, stacks of magazines and other items – especially in narrow hallways and on staircases – is a much safer environment for a senior.
- Remove loose carpeting and slippery throw rugs, especially if they are near staircases, as they are very easy to trip on. Flatten any raised floorboards, which can also cause a fall.
- Add handrails to stairs and hallways, as well as grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower, and next to the toilet. A local handyman should be able to handle this so that you don’t run into a big expense.
- In addition to those grips, make sure that mats in bathtubs and showers are non-slip. You can also place non-slip mats in other rooms and on porches.
- Make sure there is proper lighting in every room used by a senior. Use higher-watt bulbs during waking hours, and keep a nightlight in any room a senior may frequent after waking up, including bathrooms.
- Have your eyes checked at least once a year and ask your eye doctor if you should have different eyeglasses to wear while walking outdoors than you do for indoor activities including reading.
- Baggy clothes may be comfortable, but they can also catch on items when turning a corner or drag on the ground and be stepped on. Properly hemmed clothing is safer for seniors.
- Many people take their shoes off in the comfort of their home, but it’s easier to slip when one is wearing socks. You’re better off with bare feet than socks, but the first choice is shoes, which also help preventing stubbing injuries.
- Keep a small emergency survival kit in each room, featuring non-perishable snacks, a full water bottle and a first-aid kit. This could hold you over until someone is able to help you.
- Take it easy. Seniors need to remind themselves that for the most part, they don’t need to be in a hurry anymore. After standing from a sitting position, take a moment to get adjusted. Then move slowly from one room to another.
Many seniors are never the same again after they’ve experienced a fall resulting in an injury. You owe it to yourself and older family members to do everything in your power to make sure that fall doesn’t happen.