Elderly Falls: The Latest Statistics and Prevention Advice

by Bruce Montgomery Ph.D. January 23, 2017

Elderly Falls: The Latest Statistics and Prevention Advice

At Safety In Place, we have become so familiar with the causes and consequences of falls that we forget that the topic of fall prevention is new to some of our audience.

As a reminder for some and an introduction for others, we present the basic statistics around the importance of falls and ways to reduce the risk of falling.

THE IMPORTANCE OF FALLS[1][2]

  • Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among adults aged ≥65 years (older adults)
  • During 2014, approximately
    • 29 million older adults (28.7% of older adults) reported falling
    • 7 million of older adults suffered injuries from falls
    • 2.8 million older adults were treated in emergency departments for fall-related injuries
    • 800,000 of these patients were subsequently hospitalized
    • 27,000 older adults died because of falls
  • More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling
  • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
  • Adjusted for inflation, the direct medical costs for fall injuries are $31 billion annually

REDUCE THE RISK OF FALLING[3]

Most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling. Many risk factors can be changed or modified to help prevent falls.

  1. Make your home safe One-third to one-half of all falls in the elderly involve environmental hazards in the home[4] Below are some ways to make your home safer[5]
    1. Install grab bars in the tub, shower and near the toilet
    2. Remove clutter, small furniture, pet gear, electrical cords, throw rugs and anything else that might cause someone to trip
    3. Arrange or remove furniture so there is plenty of room for walking
    4. Secure carpets to the floor
    5. Wipe up spills immediately
    6. Make sure outdoor areas are well lit and walkways are smooth and free from ice
    7. Use non-slip adhesive strips on stairs
    8. Use non-skid mats or appliques in the bath and shower
    9. Install railings on both sides of stairs
    10. Provide adequate lighting in every room and stairway
    11. Place night lights in kitchen, bath and hallways
    12. Make often-used items more accessible, like food, clothing, etc., so an older person won't be tempted to use a stool or ladder to get to them
    13. If necessary, provide personal walking devices, such as a cane or walker, to aid in stability
  2. Build balance, strength and flexibility Older people with weak muscles or have poor balance are more likely to fall than are those who maintain their muscle strength, as well as their flexibility and endurance.
    1. Find a good balance and exercise program - Tai Chi is a good example of this kind of exercise
    2. Look to build balance, strength, and flexibility
    3. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for referrals. Find a program you like and take a friend
  3. Assess your risk of falling with a health professional Many falls are linked to a person's physical condition or a medical problem, such as a chronic disease.
    1. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider to evaluate your risk for falling and talk with them about specific things you can do to reduce your risk of falling
    2. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider about taking vitamin D supplements
    3. Be sure that your feet are healthy and that you are wearing proper footwear
    4. Tell your doctor about any falls that you have had
  4. Review your medications Use of medicines, such as tranquilizers, sedatives, or antidepressants, even some over-the-counter medicines, can affect balance and how steady you are on your feet. Some medications can increase a person's risk of falling because they cause side effects like dizziness or confusion.
    1. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines to see if any might make you dizzy or sleepy. This should include prescription medicines and over-the counter medicines
  5. Check your vision and hearing annually.[6] Poor vision can increase your risk of falls. One reason is that it may take a while for your eyes to adjust to see clearly when you move between darkness and light. Other vision problems contributing to falls include poor depth perception, cataracts, and glaucoma. Wearing multi-focal glasses while walking or having poor lighting around your home can also lead to falls. Unable to see or hear pets may pose a tripping hazard.
    1. Visit an eye doctor and audiologist at least once a year
    2. Be sure to update your eyeglasses and hearing aids as needed
    3. If you have bifocal or progressive lenses, you may want to get a pair of glasses with only your distance prescription for outdoor activities, such as walking.
  6. Address your risk of falling with family members
    1. Talk to your family members about any concerns that you may have regarding your health and safety
    2. Enlist your family’s support in taking simple steps to stay safe

Fall prevention is often treated like any other prevention issue. We tend to wait to address the issue until it happens to us. Knowing that your risk of falling increases as you age may help you begin to address the issue in a more organized and timely manner.

Remember that falls are not just a senior’s issue. Anyone of any age can fall. When seniors fall however, the impact is not only on the senior but on their loved ones as well. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again.

Many people who fall, even if they’re not injured, become afraid of falling. This fear may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities. When a person is less active, they become weaker and this increases their chances of falling.

Perhaps more people would pay attention if we used a different phrase than “fall prevention.” Let’s call it “living safely in place” and apply it to seniors and all who are interested in living a healthy and independent life in their own homes.

 

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6537a2.htm?s_cid=mm6537a2_w

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/Falls/adultfalls.html

[3] https://www.ncoa.org/healthy-aging/falls-prevention/preventing-falls-tips-for-older-adults-and-caregivers/take-control-of-your-health-6-steps-to-prevent-a-fall/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235613/

[5] http://www.nsc.org/learn/safety-knowledge/Pages/safety-at-home-falls.aspx

[6] https://nihseniorhealth.gov/falls/causesandriskfactors/01.html




Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.
Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.

Author

Dr. Bruce Montgomery is a licensed building contractor in Michigan and Florida. He is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist as designated by the National Association of Home Builders. He has also achieved an Executive Certificate in Home Modification from the University of Southern California. He has a wide ranging educational background, including a Master of Science degree in Entomology, with a Master of Science degree in Forestry and a Ph.D. in educational administration.