Many older people fear falling and with good reason: In the United States, falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults. In fact, according to the National Council on Aging, one in four Americans aged 65+ have a serious fall each year.
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Even if the fall doesn’t result in death, the related injuries—such as hip fractures and head traumas—can be quite serious and have a debilitating effect on the person’s quality of life. Older people are more likely to break bones in falls because many older people have porous, fragile bones due to osteoporosis. Additionally, seniors are more likely to have complications from surgeries, as the sedation and additional trauma to the body make the recovery more risky. Seniors can’t bounce back as quickly or as completely as a younger person can.
Why do seniors fall so often?
There are many reasons why seniors are at increased risk of falling, including:
- Poor eyesight. Age-related vision diseases—as well as not wearing glasses—can prevent seniors from seeing objects in their way.
- Assistive devices. Although canes and walkers are intended to help keep seniors safe, if they are used improperly, they can do more harm than good.
- Medications. Taking sedatives, anti-depressants, or blood pressure medications—plus taking multiple medications—are some of the causes that increase the risk of falling.
- Fatigue. Many seniors have trouble sleeping soundly and can trip because they are tired during the day.
- Lack of physical activity. Failure to exercise regularly results in poor muscle tone, decreased bone mass, loss of balance, and reduced flexibility.
- Diseases. Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, and arthritis, among others, can cause weakness in the extremities, poor grip strength, balance disorders, and cognitive impairment.
- Surgeries. Even seemingly minor surgeries can leave an elderly person weak, in pain and discomfort, and less mobile than they were before the surgery.
- Environmental hazards. One third of all falls in the elderly population involve hazards at home; factors include poor lighting, loose carpets, and lack of safety equipment.
Although some seniors fall from a greater height—such as down a flight of stairs—low-level falls can be just as dangerous. Many seniors sustain serious injuries, such as a cervical or hip fracture, from a common trip-and-fall accident in the home, a misstep on a curb, or a loss of balance bending over or reaching up for something. Even if they don’t hit the floor, they can bang into to a countertop or piece of furniture and sustain significant injuries. Even seemingly minor injuries—like bruises—must be given careful attention so that they don’t worsen and become dangerous.
Reducing the risk of falling
Once a senior has fallen, they are at greater risk of falling again. However, falls are not an inevitable part of growing older. Many falls can be easily prevented by making the home safer and using products that help keep seniors more stable and less likely to fall. Doing exercises, such as walking and lifting light weights, will help them build strength and improve their balance.
An elder home care professional can help reduce the risk of falling by providing assistance with daily activities, such as bathing and dressing, and household tasks, such as cooking and light housekeeping. They can help keep seniors safe at home, where seniors can continue to enjoy their independence.