As we age, there can be many changes within our mind and body that can greatly alter our lives. Everyday activities like walking can become major challenges for us. Our bodies become fragile, and uncertain steps lead to falls and injuries. Issues like impaired vision and balance can make life a series of hazards.
What are the most common causes of falls in the elderly? Certain aging-related factors contribute to a senior’s risk of falling:
- Health Conditions
- Medication Side Effects
- Vision Problems
- Balance Issues
- Bathroom Falls
- Attempting To Do Things Beyond Their Ability
- Symptoms To Look For After A Fall
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?
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.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regularly reports the latest statistics of elderly falls and the reasons that falls happen.
- One in every four elderly people will fall each year. With the elderly population growing each year, as does the amount of elderly that fall.
- One in five of those falls will result in serious 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 for fear they will lose their independence.
Elderly Falls And Dementia
Dementia is one of the leading conditions that seniors suffer with; millions of new cases are reported each year. With dementia, there can be a loss of brain function and/or a loss of bodily function.
- 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 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 lead to falls.
Proper footwear and keeping a tidy home (especially 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. Some of them will be lucky enough to bounce back without harm. But for most, after a fall, the likelihood of falling again 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 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.
Symptoms To Look For After A Fall
Other than visually obvious signs of major injury 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
To begin with, a great number of senior falls can be prevented when they 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.
Having the proper footwear and walking assistance tools, such as a cane or walker, will help seniors to 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 optometrist check-ups, adjustments with glasses, or other needed treatments will make the world a clearer – and safer – place. Vision problems 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 bars 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 LifeFone system which is inexpensive and has no monthly contract.