1 in 3 Americans aged 65+ fall every year. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. However, falling is not an inevitable part of aging. Through practical lifestyle and environmental adjustments the number of falls among seniors can be reduced substantially.
Why is Falling so Dangerous?
Older adults don’t heal as quickly and efficiently as younger people. So any injury for an elder is going to be more serious than it would be for a younger adult or youth. Falls can lead to broken bones, damaged nerve-endings, concussions, dislocations and musculature problems. The most prevalent fall-related injuries among older adults are fractures of the hip; spine; upper arm; forearm; and bones of the pelvis, hand, and ankle. A minor injury can lead to bed rest and recovery time that further weakens the individual. A major injury can lead to surgery which includes extended bed rest and risk of infection and other complications associated with surgery. That’s assuming you notice you have an injury at all. Many individuals who fall don’t notice immediate injury and fail to identify brain trauma. Bleeding in or around the brain, swelling, and blood clots can disrupt the oxygen supply to the brain and cause wider damage later on.
With a fall, age-related challenges together with the added problem of injury and weakness during recovery time can become the starting point to longer term pain, disability, loss of independence and premature death. It’s not surprising then that many falls lead to a decline in overall health and well-being and even shortened life span.
The circumstances surrounding fall risk are based on a host of factors that may work in conjunction, increasing the risk. According to the Journal of Physiotherapy, “There are a range of body structures and functions involved in maintaining the body in an upright position. To avoid falling, a sighted ambulant person needs adequate: vision to observe environmental challenges like uneven or slippery surfaces; awareness of where body parts are in space; reaction time; and muscle strength to extend the legs against gravity.”
Additionally, acute medical problems such as infection, chronic conditions such as diabetes, and progressive conditions such as Parkinson’s disease can also impact a person’s posture. Medication, specifically dose, interactions and metabolism can also add to the mix. Psychoactive medications have been particularly associated with falls.
Accounting for the physical risk factors can only take you so far; “A person’s behavior is also crucial in the consideration of risk for falling. People can choose which tasks they undertake and how they undertake them. Behavior is likely to be influenced by cognitive impairment, insight and level of support available. Some individuals with a high physiological risk of falling may be able to avoid falling by increased awareness and use of assistance when required. Individual variations in attitudes and behavior probably explain the differences between measured fall risk and actual falls experienced.”
What’s the Solution?
Fall prevention strategies are now a major component of most senior lifestyle programs. The idea is to improve the overall quality of the elder’s lifestyle, strength and health so that if a fall happens, it’s not a game changer.
Fall prevention strategies fall under 4 categories;
- Improving the environment (home and surroundings) around the elder including;
- Good lighting
- Clutter removal
- Easy access to avoid reaches
- Exercises to help strengthen legs and balance in general
- Medication management
- Safety-related skills and behaviors (occupational therapy)
The strongest single predictor of future falls is a history of previous falls. An individual’s reason for falling the first time is likely to recur if measures aren’t taken to prevent falling. There are assessment tests that can be given by doctors and occupational therapists. Renovations to the home to improve safety can be tax deductible. If you think there is fall risk in your future or the future of a loved one, it’s a good idea to plan ahead, assess risk and take measures. Fall prevention, like diet and exercise, ensures longevity and is worth the effort.
Broad Street can help. We provide Personal Assistants who can help manage overall health care and awareness. Through our Professional Network we can help you find the right resources and doctors to help answer questions or identify areas of concern. We provide home care in Wilmette, Illinois, the North Shore area of Chicago. For more information, please call 847.728.0134.