When it comes to retaining mobility and staying out of the hospital, research says older adults should focus much of their concern for preventing falls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior visits the E.R. every 11 seconds for a fall-related injury; injuries which include –
Bruising and lacerations
Broken bones including hip fractures
Head trauma (like concussions)
Traumatic brain injury
Mild Cognitive Impairment
95% of hip fractures in the elderly are due to hip fractures, and as a 2014 report illumines, hip fractures are one of the leading risk factors for mortality in adults over 65.
Why exactly? It’s not the actual fracture itself which causes death, but rather the ensuing complications like infections and heart attack.
A growing body of evidence indicates that upwards of 50% of hip fracture patients will die within a year of injury, most from sepsis (or the bacterial infection of the blood and body’s soft tissues which causes an overactive inflammatory immune response).
What makes an older adult more susceptible to falling and injuring them? Myriad factors play a role here including:
Age-related vision loss can impair a senior’s ability to see obstacles and trip hazards clearly in front of them. Vision loss can also disrupt normal depth perception and peripheral vision, which helps when navigating trickier environments like stairways, curbs, and even small steps.
Lack of balance/coordination
Age-related muscle loss as well as diminished coordination, flexibility, and agility can make it harder for an older adult to catch or correct themselves before falling.
Low bone density
Women are 3 to 4x as likely to fracture a hip in a fall than men, mainly due to their higher rates of osteoporosis. Bone loss after menopause due to falling estrogen production places women at an increased risk of unexpected bone fracture versus men, however, a 2011 report found that even with lower injury rates, men who experience hip fractures have higher mortality rates.
Key mobility markers including being able to stand up and sit down without support, to walking and standing for more than 10 minutes at a time without experiencing fatigue, pain, or weakness can provide insight into fall risk.
For older adults who have difficulty getting in and out of the bath, bed, etc. as well as trouble ascending and descending stairs, chances of falling are higher.
Medicine Side Effects
The highest mortality results from hip fractures which occur in older adults with a pre-existing chronic condition. According to AARP, 4 out of 5 older adults suffer from at least one chronic disease, many treated with medicine that can have detrimental effects on balance, mobility, and alertness.
With 1 out of 4 seniors experiencing a fall every year, there are a handful of ways to plan for mitigating the severity of a fall-related injury. Tactics include:
Grab bars, railings, and guide tape can be installed in challenging environments like staircases, porches, and bathrooms to give seniors more support and stability.
Fall mats for the elderly can be placed by bedsides, in bathrooms, by common sitting areas and walkways to help prevent an older adult from slipping, or in the event of a fall, cushion their impact with the ground.
Routine exercises can strengthen a senior’s balance, coordination, and flexibility – think low-impact activities like yoga, hiking, swimming, dancing, cycling, tennis, progressive resistance training, and golf.
Mobility aids can provide the stability and support a senior with leg weakness, pain, or difficulty may need to successfully stay active and avoid falling when walking and standing.
Regular vision checks and communication with treating doctors can give seniors and their care network a better handle on medicinal side effects or vision impairment which may increase the risk of falling.
Proper lighting upgrades that make light switches more accessible for seniors in their own homes, and which streamline the lighting from room to room to be consistently bright can make it easier for seniors to get around.
The goods news is that falls among the elderly are mostly preventable. By taking proactive steps to exercise and upgrade the home environment, seniors will not only lower their risk of falling but efficiently reduce their chances of dying from a hip fracture.