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Falls Can Have Severe Health Ramifications for Older Adults

Trips, stumbles and minor tumbles may not seem like a big deal when you’re younger. But, for seniors, any fall has the potential to result in severe injury or a health crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a senior over the age of 65 falls every second of every day. One in five falls ends in serious injury. So understanding the risk factors that lead to both fatal and nonfatal falls and taking precautions are vital to avoid the potentially debilitating consequences seniors can face.

What are the causes of falling?

A variety of factors increase an individual’s likelihood of falling. Usually, it’s a combination of multiple factors that lead to a fall. So being aware of your personal risk factors can help you to minimize dangers.

Factors typically associated with aging.

As you age, there’s a natural degeneration in various bodily functions. This may include:

  • A decrease in strength
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Slowed reaction times and reflexes
  • Worsened vision
  • Impaired hearing
  • Cognitive impairments

Any of these individual issues can cause difficulty walking, going up and down stairs, sitting, standing or lying down. These problems can also lead to increased fatigue and less awareness of external factors that could potentially contribute to a fall. All of these make falling more likely.

Medical Factors

Aging may lead to higher susceptibility to certain medical conditions that increase your risk of falling. Some examples of health issues associated with fall risk are dementia, osteoporosis, vertigo, depression, COPD, diabetes, arthritis and disabilities, particularly in the feet or lower limbs.

Surgical procedures for medical conditions or injuries can also affect an individual’s mobility, strength and function.

Medications taken for medical conditions can increase the risk of falling because of the side effects that compromise balance. Taking four or more drugs is also associated with falling.

Environmental Factors

Falls are more common in environments with slippery floors, poor lighting, uneven surfaces, stairs and clutter. Many falls occur in the bathroom. Getting in or out of the shower or bath can be particularly hazardous to seniors. Interestingly, however, household and environmental factors aren’t as significant an indicator as health factors.

Other Factors

  • The potential for serious or fatal injury from a fall is especially concerning if a person lives alone.
  • Senior women are more likely to fall and have serious hip injuries.
  • Being less active means more muscle atrophy and an increased likelihood of falling.
  • Being overly active can lead to more opportunities to fall and potentially push your physical limits.
  • A history of previous falls means you have a higher risk of falling again.

What happens to seniors who suffer a fall?

Just one fall can have a significant negative impact on a senior’s quality of life. Consider these facts.

  • Most fatal injuries occur from falling.
  • 95% of all hip fractures happen during a fall.
  • Falling is the leading cause of traumatic brain injury.
  • A fear of falling again is common.
  • Seniors who’ve fallen may start avoiding activities that could lead to another fall.
  • Injuries from a fall may contribute to an inability to function independently and require care or moving to a nursing home.
  • The consequences of falling may increase the risk of depression.
  • Medical costs after a fall can be expensive.

What are some prevention strategies to avoid falling?

Make sure your prevention strategies address your individual risk factors. List out your personal risk factors, look at which ones can be changed and create a plan to decrease those risks.

Stay active at an appropriate level for your health and ability. Try lower intensity workouts like yoga, tai chi, walking, swimming, water aerobics and weight training, especially for leg muscles.

Work with a physical therapist to prevent falls or to heal from injury, especially if you have health risk factors. A physical therapist can help you improve balance and build strength while taking into account your individual needs.

Get regular physical exams to check for any risk factors or problems that could lead to falls. Be honest about any concerns you have and discuss any side effects of your medication.

Wear well-fitting, comfortable, wide and flat shoes for a stable base.

If needed, be sure you actually use devices like canes or walkers for assistance.

Assess your environment and take steps to make it safer. Consider features like grab bars in the bathroom, secure handrails on stairs, a more accessible tub or shower and plenty of light. Also, avoid small rugs that can bunch up or catch on your shoes, and remove clutter to keep floors and spaces clear.

Have a plan in place in case you fall and know what to do and how to get help. If you’re at risk, get a wearable emergency fall device so you can call for medical assistance. New technology is available for automatic fall risk detection. There are also manual devices to push in case of an emergency.

For seniors, falling can be a significant concern in trying to stay safe and healthy. But falling isn’t an inevitable part of growing older. Taking these steps to lessen your risk of falling and being prepared in the event of a fall will go a long way toward living a healthy, fulfilling life throughout your retirement.

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