Accidental falls are the leading cause of injuries among older adults in the United States, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all injuries seen in our emergency rooms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of 4.8 million adults 65 and older receive emergency care for fall-related injuries annually. Nearly 30,000 older adults die each year as result of a fall. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer injuries from falls. Among fall-related injuries seen in emergency departments, fractures were most common, followed by internal organ injuries (including concussions), contusions, lacerations, and sprains.
Falling can have devastating consequences for anyone, but particularly for seniors. Physical injuries related to falls can require hospitalization, surgery, and a long recovery time, impacting seniors’ overall health and wellbeing. Seniors who have fallen and suffered injuries may need help with daily activities, impacting their ability to live independently. The cost of medical treatment and care following a fall can be expensive, leading to additional financial strain for seniors and their families.
Seniors are at higher risk of falling due to a combination of factors, including age-related physical and cognitive changes, chronic health conditions, and environmental factors. As we age, balance and mobility tend to decline due to natural changes in the body, such as reduced muscle strength, flexibility, and sensory function. Seniors are more likely to have chronic health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease, which can affect their physical function and increase their risk of falling. Visual and hearing impairments can affect seniors’ ability to perceive their surroundings and react to potential hazards. Many seniors take medications that can cause dizziness, drowsiness, or other side effects that increase the risk of falling. Additionally, seniors who have fallen previously may become more fearful of falling, which can lead to a decrease in physical activity and muscle weakness, further increasing their risk of falling.
By understanding these factors, we can plan on taking steps to prevent falls, which is essential for maintaining health, independence, and quality of life regardless of our age.
We can all take several steps to reduce our risk of falling, including:
- Stay physically active: Regular physical activity, including exercises that focus on strength, balance, and flexibility, can help improve mobility and reduce the risk of falls. Additionally, it is found to improve blood flow to the brain and also help reduce the risk for cognitive decline as we age.
- Review and adjust medications: Seniors should talk to their doctor or pharmacist to review their medications and ensure they are not taking any medications that can increase the risk of falling. Blood-pressure medications, in particular, should be monitored regularly.
- Get regular vision and hearing exams: Poor vision and hearing can increase the risk of falls. Regular exams can help detect and address any issues.
- Make the home safer: Remove tripping hazards such as throw-rugs and clutter, install grab bars and handrails in bathrooms and stairs, ensure adequate lighting, and make sure cords are out of the way. Motion-activated night lights are a great way of making the mid-night walk to the bathroom safer.
- Wear appropriate footwear: Make sure that shoes fit well, provide good support, and have nonslip soles. Avoid walking around in loose socks.
- Use assistive devices: Assistive devices such as canes or walkers can support balance and help prevent falls. Collapsible walking sticks, the ones used on trails by hikers, are wildly popular and can be found in a variety of fashionable colors.
- Be mindful of surroundings: Be aware of surroundings and take time when moving around, especially when getting up from a seated or lying position.
By taking these steps, we can all reduce our risk of falling, support our independence, and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.