Most people know that seniors are at a higher risk of falling than those who are younger. The potential for severe injuries makes fall prevention essential for protecting their health and even their lives.
Children fall almost daily during play, often bouncing right back up without more than a whimper. During our youth through adulthood, falls are less common. They might result in more injuries when they do occur, but most heal quickly without a lasting impact. It isn’t until a person reaches their senior years that falls become more likely again, and more dangerous.
What Causes Seniors to Fall?
We generally think of elderly people as being more frail, weaker, and less flexible. Still, most people don’t know the reason for these changes. Sometimes the natural aging process makes it more difficult for the elderly to do simple things like walking. Other times, the treatments for their medical conditions are to blame. Some of the most common reasons the elderly are at such a great risk for falls include:
- Sarcopenia – This condition involves the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength that often occurs as people age. Studies show that a person might lose as much as half of their skeletal muscle mass by the time they reach the age of 80 years old. The loss of muscle tissue has a direct impact on their strength and functional abilities.
In addition to a connection between sarcopenia and several health conditions including insulin resistance, rheumatoid arthritis, and fatigue, it is also associated with falls. Changes in their balance, gait, and strength turn everyday activities into risky behaviors. Aging is the primary cause of sarcopenia. However, leading a sedentary lifestyle with little or no physical activity also puts people at an increased risk. Following a good fall prevention program that implements regular exercise can help.
- Carotid Sinus Hypersensitivity (CSH) – This condition is a common one in the elderly. CSH occurs when a receptor in the neck that helps regulate the heart rate is overly sensitive. Sometimes it causes the heart to slow down too much, causing the person to faint. Scientists know that there is a connection between CSH and unexplained falls in the elderly.
Many people with the condition have no symptoms other than dizziness and syncope (loss of consciousness.) Doctors can diagnose the condition by applying a simple massage technique to the throat. Once diagnosed, a pacemaker can help prevent the receptor from slowing the heart rate too much.
- Heart Disease– Several heart conditions increase the risk of falls including cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure), and congenital heart disease (conditions affecting the heart valves or muscle that were present at birth.) Any heart condition that causes increased or decreased blood flow, weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness increases the risk of falling.
- Neurological Diseases Including Parkinson’s Disease– Parkinson’s Disease is a movement disorder which makes it difficult to perform everyday activities. It is a chronic disease with symptoms that worsen over time. Some characteristic symptoms include tremors, slowness of movement, postural changes, and impaired balance. The disease also causes changes in the person’s center of gravity, making falls more likely.
The American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) recommends exercise to improve health and independence. One way Parkinson’s patients can achieve this is through a quality assisted living program. They get the help they need to perform activities they can no longer do on their own. Additionally, they have access to medical care when they need it and have interesting options for getting the exercise they need.
- Visual and Hearing Impairment – Many types of visual impairment develop early in life and throughout adulthood. However, cataracts, glaucoma, and anisometropia, which causes changes in depth perception among other symptoms, are considered age-related. They interfere with a person’s ability to safely navigate even the most familiar environment.
Hearing loss in itself might not increase the risk of falling. But the ears are also responsible for maintaining a person’s balance. Any hearing loss or related condition can cause balance problems that make falling more likely.
It isn’t just your medical condition that increases the risk of falls. It’s also hazards that exist in your living environment. Wet, slippery floors, dim lighting, or loose rugs or carpets also contribute to the increased risk. Sometimes, seniors fall while reaching for storage areas such as cupboards or while walking up or down stairs. Older men often fall from ladders while doing home maintenance work.
The combination of age-related changes in balance and strength with hazards in the living environment is essentially a formula for falls. Everyone should consider their own risk and take steps in fall prevention before their potential for falls turns into an accident.
Why Falls Are So Dangerous to the Elderly
So, what makes falling so much more dangerous for seniors? Seniors often suffer from serious injuries and even death from falls. One reason for the dangers is that many already have pre-existing medical conditions or disabilities. Falls that wouldn’t hurt someone younger can cause serious trauma. Seniors are especially vulnerable to fractures to the hip along with head trauma. Having osteoarthritis increases the risk of fractures and joint injuries even from modest falls.
When a senior is injured in a fall, it isn’t usually the injury alone that causes a major problem. Existing medical conditions increase the risk of fracture from a ground-level fall. They make it difficult for bones to heal and increase the chances of an infection developing. Seniors who experience fatal falls usually die from the complications and not from their initial injury.
Fall-Related Statistics for Seniors
Falls by seniors are scary, common, expensive, and sometimes deadly. Most of us know at least one senior who has fallen and gotten injured. But the numbers related to fall-related injuries across the country are more staggering than you might imagine!
- More than one in four people aged 65 and older fall every year.
- One of five falls results in a serious injury such as a fracture or head injury.
- More than 3 million seniors are treated in emergency rooms annually for fall-related injuries.
- Of the more than 800,000 patients hospitalized for fall injuries annually, most are due to a hip fracture or head injury.
- Falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury.
- The medical costs for fall-related injuries are more than $50 billion annually. Of that amount, Medicare and Medicaid covered 75% of the total costs.
- The fastest-growing rate for injuries and deaths from falls was for those aged 85 and older.
Fall Prevention Tips for Seniors and Caregivers
Often, it’s the adult children, grandchildren, and other family members or friends who worry about the risk of falls with aging loved ones. What many don’t realize is that they can help protect their loved ones even if they live far away. Most falls are preventable when people take the right steps and plan ahead. Fall prevention training provides seniors with the tools they need to live safer and happier. It also allows them to live independently for longer. For many seniors, nothing matters more than maintaining the freedom to live their lives on their own terms!
The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk of falling. The first rule of fall prevention is to identify your risk factors and address them. For example…
Find a Good Exercise Program
Exercise doesn’t have to be boring or strenuous to benefit the individual. In fact, it doesn’t have to feel like exercise at all! Doing activities that are fun takes the work out of exercising. It’s like working at a job that you enjoy. It never seems like work at all.
Some exercises even focus on improving balance. If you aren’t familiar with tai chi, look into it. It is especially helpful at improving the balance, strength, and flexibility that seniors need. Another good choice is swimming. Water exercises are great for anyone who has joint problems.
Another way to make exercise fun is to do it with a friend. Whether you engage in some friendly competition or offer each other support, exercising with a friend tends to increase the benefits and gives you more to look forward to.
Test Your Vision and Hearing Regularly
Some vision problems occur gradually over time. Others happen quickly along with other health conditions or other causes. Keep track of your vision with regular eye exam appointments. Poor eyesight makes it easier to trip, take a misstep, or misjudge a step.
Hearing problems can also lead to dizziness and a loss of balance. Both hearing and vision problems can usually be corrected. There’s never a good reason for risking a dangerous fall when a pair of glasses or medication can help reduce those risks.
Ask the Pharmacist About Medications
Sometimes the pharmacist knows common complaints about medications that doctors may not hear. They also know the common side effects associated with your prescriptions. Also, ask about any potential interactions or side effects from over-the-counter medications you take. If any of your medications cause dizziness, ask your doctor about changing to a different drug.
Even herbal supplements can cause side effects either alone or by interacting with another drug. Finally, always take all medications as prescribed and notify your doctor if you experience any complications. Reducing the risk of falls might be a simple matter of avoiding certain behaviors immediately after taking a prescription medication.
Evaluate Your Home Environment
It’s easy to overlook hazards in your own home. Take a close look at your living environment for things like clutter, unsecured rugs, and items on the stairs that can easily lead to falls. The majority of senior falls happen in the bathroom. If there aren’t safety bars in the shower and around the toilet, add them. All stairs should also be equipped with railings on both sides and non-skid surfaces on each step. When it comes to adding safety features to your home, it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry.
Add Additional Lighting
Age-related vision changes make it even more difficult to see when there isn’t adequate lighting. Make sure there is bright lighting along every walkway in the house including the stairs. Motion sensor lighting is a good idea that protects you in case you get up during the night. The lights turn on automatically so you don’t end up trying to feel your way through the house.
Wear Good Shoes and Non-Skid Socks or Slippers
Shoes should have low heels and non-skid bottoms. Good quality shoes that fit well help provide stability and balance. At home, wear only socks and slippers with non-slip bottoms. Regular socks provide a slick surface that can cause falls on almost any type of flooring.
Ask the Doctor for a Fall Risk Assessment
Talk about any falls you or your loved one has already had. Your doctor will evaluate the fall risk based on your current health conditions, age, and a previous history of falls. He/she can provide advice on fall prevention based on your risk assessment.
Everyone has unique needs for a healthy living environment. Your risk for falling determines the best lifestyle and setting for you. If you have serious medical conditions, you might require the services that come with an assisted living facility. Assisted living provides the help you need performing everyday activities and access to medical care when you need it.
For those with a lower risk, independent living gives you access to services and amenities. It also offers the environmental features, activities, and social opportunities you can benefit from. You can live in a safe environment where you can maintain your independence without the responsibilities that come with staying in your home alone.
Protect your health and enjoy independent living or assisted living at its finest at Park Terrace at Greenway. Contact us today to schedule your visit and take a tour of our facility. See what sets us apart and get a taste of resort-style living with everything you could want and need for enjoying your senior years.