As people age, there can be many changes within their minds and bodies that can greatly alter their lives. Daily activities like dressing or walking can become major challenges. Our bodies become fragile, and uncertain steps lead to falls and serious injuries. Issues like impaired vision and balance can make life a series of hazards.
Certain aging-related factors contribute to the risk of falls in older people:
- Health Conditions
- Medication Side Effects
- Vision Problems
- Balance and Gait Issues
- Attempting To Do Things Beyond Their Ability
Let’s take a closer look at ways we can prevent falls and what to do if they do happen.
CDC Fall Statistics – How Likely Is It For A Senior To Fall?
In this case, the term “senior” refers to someone over the age of 65. Unfortunately, falls in this age group are quite prevalent, making it a very serious issue for the aging population.
Falls affect 4.5 million older adults in the U.S. and cost Medicare $15 billion to $30 billion annually.University of Michigan Health Lab
The United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regularly reports the latest statistics on elderly falls, as well as the common causes of falls.
- One in every four elderly people will fall each year. As the elderly population grows each year, so does the number of elderly who fall.
- One in five of those falls will result in severe injury.
- Those who fall are twice as likely to fall again within one year.
These statistics are based on the cases that are reported and treated; many times an elderly person will never tell anyone that they fell due to the fear of a loss of independence.
Elderly Falls And Dementia
Dementia is one of the leading conditions affecting senior citizens – millions of new cases are reported each year. With dementia, two of the biggest risk factors for falls are a loss of brain function and/or a loss of bodily function.
Don’t take the fall risk lightly, either. A study from the U.K. found that having dementia doubles the risk of falls. This is because:
- Dementia patients often suffer from weak muscles and a lack of energy, making it difficult to get around. As the disease progresses, there may be changes in the way the person carries their body, which may affect the way they walk.
- Changes such as shuffling their feet and hunching over when they walk – paired with disorientation – can lead to an increased risk of falls and injuries.
- Dementia patients often struggle with brain/vision issues, such as comprehending what they are seeing in front of them. The eye and the brain are not communicating as clearly as they once did, and this can increase fall risk.
Proper footwear and removing potential hazards around the home (especially on the floors) will make it easier for a senior with dementia or Alzheimer’s to get around. Should they need further assistance, a cane, walker, wheelchair, or scooter may be needed.
Keeping a regular eating and medication routine is important for a dementia patient and they may need more help with these tasks as time passes. As their memory fades, they may get disoriented and forget where they were going, or why.
Consequences Of Falls In The Elderly
Above, we mentioned that 25 percent of the elderly will fall each year, so it’s a pretty common problem. Some of them will be lucky enough to bounce back without harm. But for most, after a fall, the likelihood of future falls doubles. This can be scary for older adults to think about, and the fear may, unfortunately, prohibit them from living an active independent lifestyle.
There are many consequences that may happen when an elderly person falls. Most injuries are the result of weak muscles, brittle bones, and fragile joints. Hips and wrists are the most common broken bones in the elderly.
When a senior falls down, they may hit their heads, causing head trauma and concussions. Brain damage from a fall can bring on or worsen dementia.
To make matters worse, many seniors live alone, or are alone for the majority of the day. If they were to fall and no one was around, there is a danger of them not getting help when they need it.
And know that it does not really matter how far they fall. A fall from just standing up can be dangerous for many older adults.
Cheng’s team found that approximately 4.5 percent of elderly patients (70 years and above) died following a ground-level fall, compared to 1.5 percent of non-elderly patients. Elderly patients remained in the hospital and the intensive care unit longer and only 22 percent were able to function on their own after they left the hospital, compared to 41 percent of non-elderly patients.Dr. Julius Cheng, M.D., M.P..H. – University of Rochester Medical Center
A ground-level fall is is described as when someone falls while their feet are on the ground. So, standing up from a seated position, just standing, etc. are ground-level falls.
Symptoms To Look For After A Fall
Other than visually obvious signs of severe injuries after a fall, there are several other ways you can tell if there are injuries that raise cause for concern:
- First, check to find out if they are able to speak. Do not attempt to move them. They may be able to tell you if they are hurting in a specific area.
- Look for broken bones, or possible fractures and sprains. Major bruising can be a clue for a reason to visit the emergency room. *NOTE: If the senior needs to go to the emergency room, be sure to ask them when they last ate and took their medications. The first responders or emergency room staff will need to know this information.
- If the person is able to get up on their own safely, monitor them closely for increased confusion, or an impaired gait.
Falls by a senior citizen should always be taken very seriously. The fall should be reported to their doctor immediately or treated at an emergency facility.
What To Do When An Elderly Person Falls And Hits Their Head
If the senior in your life falls and hits their head, try to stay calm and encourage them to do the same. A fall can be a shock to the body as well as emotional and disorienting.
- Speak to them and ask what they are feeling. They may be able to tell you right away if they need to go to the hospital.
- If they can’t speak, you must get them emergency help right away. Call 911 immediately.
- The most important thing to remember is not to move them – and ask them not to move until you are sure they are not seriously injured.
- If you are unsure of the severity of the situation, call 911 immediately. It is always better to be safe than sorry, especially where a senior is concerned.
- If the senior complains of dizziness, vomiting, or serious headache, do not let them go to sleep or lay down to rest. Instead, call their doctor or 911 immediately. Additionally, changes in their behavior after hitting their head may be cause for concern.
- Remember that even if they feel well enough to get up and do not seem to have any serious injury, you should keep a close eye on them and report it to their doctor. It is best to have them see a doctor or medical specialist as soon as possible, and you may have to insist that they go.
How To Keep Elderly From Falling
The good news is that a great number of senior falls can be prevented when seniors begin a regular exercise program and commit to doing it a few times per week. When the body moves, it helps keep the circulation going and strengthens the muscles that keep us more stable when we stand or walk.
Exercises don’t have to strenuous. Seniors can build muscle strength through a gentle exercise program such as chair yoga or tia chi. Caution – be sure the senior has a physical examination first, to be sure there are no underlying conditions that would keep them from taking part in an exercise program.
Having the proper footwear (no high heels!) and walking assistance tools, such as a cane or walker, will help an older person get off on the right foot and give them confidence in their balance. Treating neuropathy or other foot issues is recommended. They’ll be more likely to get into physical activity if their feet feel comfortable and they are pain-free.
Getting regular check-ups with an eye doctor. Adjustments with glasses or other needed treatments will make the world a clearer – and safer – place. Vision problems, poor depth perception, and poor eyesight can be a major issue for seniors. Not only has the world gotten harder to see, but vision impairments also contribute to falling.
Be aware of medications that are prescribed and how they are to be administered. In addition to those precautions, it is important to carefully read the medication’s side effects, as they often lead to dizziness or drowsiness. While you are taking note of medications, talk with you loved one about what can happen if medicines are not taken on time, not taken correctly, or not taken at all.
A healthy diet will provide the necessary nutrients and vitamins seniors need for fuel. This includes drinking plenty of water to prevent the lightheadedness that can result from dehydration.
Use safety devices, such as grab bars and handrails, throughout the house. Although we usually see them only in the bathroom, grab rails and handrails can be used anywhere they are needed in the house: in the kitchen, by the front door, in the bedroom, down the hallway, etc. Read About The Different Types Of Grab Bars Available.
Raised toilet seats, shower chairs and transfer benches are more tools that you can use to help minimize your senior’s fall risk. Read About The Different Types Of Toilet Seats Available.
Lights are a device most seniors and caregivers rarely think about adding to the home, but they can be an inexpensive and easy way to make it safer, for everyone. You can use plug in lights or battery powered lights, or a combination of both because there can never be too many lights! Place them everywhere, but especially in those areas that are used at night time. For example, the path from the bed to the bathroom, or the pathway to and from the kitchen, etc.
- If the fall risk for your senior loved one is high and they get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, we recommend the use of a bedside commode. You’ll likely get a lot of resistance, though. If you do, get a bed alarm so that someone else in the household can be alerted that the person is getting up from the bed.
- Another option we can recommend is Smart Caregiver® Floor Mat! It’s a flat mat that can be placed on the floor, by the bed. It plugs into an outlet and when stepped on, it can turn on the light in the room AND notify you (the caregiver) that your elderly loved one has gotten up. Of course, if they fall onto the mat – it will notify you as well.
A medical alert system is very important if the senior is a fall risk. It’s not just for use in case they do fall, it can be used if they aren’t feeling well, if there’s a fire or other emergency. We recommend the Family 1st Medical Alert system which is inexpensive and has no monthly contract.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are falls a normal part of aging?
According to the CDC, although falls are common in adults over the age of 65, falls are actually not a normal part of aging. They are, however, the leading causes of injury and death for this older age group.
Where do seniors fall the most?
According to a British study, “Most falls occur on the flat; falls on the stairs or in the bathroom are relatively rare. Old women tend to fall in the house, old men in the garden. In ‘care homes’, many falls occur on the way to or from the toilet.”
What time of day do most falls occur?
According to a report from the World Health Organization (WHO), 80 percent of falls happen during the day. Of the 20 percent that occur at night, they are generally the result of waking up to use the bathroom and happen between 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.