Unintentional Falls and Seniors
Falls are among the Main Causes of Injury and Death to Seniors
Unintentional falls are one of the main causes that lead to death and serious injuries of seniors over the age of 65. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one in four seniors fall every year, but less than half tell their doctors and having one serious fall doubles the chances to have another one. Every year, 2.8 million seniors in the US are treated in emergency settings for falls. Every year over 300,000 seniors are hospitalized for hip fractures and more than 95% of these hip fractures are caused by falls – usually by falling sideways. Falls are also the main reason for traumatic brain injures (TBI). Head wounds can be even more serious for seniors that are on blood thinning medicines like warfarin, as they can have bleeding and more prolonged bleeding in their brains. Any senior on medications like warfarin must get immediate medical attention after any head injury even if they think they are OK.
Falls are Expensive
The annual medical costs for fall injuries in the US is 31 billion dollars a year (adjusted for inflation) and two thirds of this is for hospitalizations.
Falls can Lead to Injuries and Fear of Falling
While many falls do not lead to injuries, one out of five does cause serious injuries like fractures and head wounds. For seniors, this affects their ability to do things on their own and especially limits them from going out for chores or recreation. In fact, some seniors, after one or more serious falls, become so frightened of falling again, that they stop going places and doing things. This results in less exercise and their muscles get weaker, which unfortunately can lead to yet another fall. Many falls take place at home and many falls take place in institutional facilities, especially among seniors suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Reasons Seniors Fall
There are several reasons why seniors are so prone to falling and sometimes these can be prevented:
No one can ever measure statistically how many seniors fall because they are under stress. Stress causes people to have accidents when their minds are on their problems, their worries, their fears and they are less alert to what is going on around them and do not always properly look where they are going.
Many seniors have difficulty seeing properly because of various vision problems like cataracts. Many seniors, do not have 20/20 vision even with eye glasses. Some seniors wear bifocal eye glasses and these can sometimes make for serious visual problems when walking downstairs. It is recommended that seniors wear regular eye glasses and not bifocals when they are going down stairs. Seniors must have an annual vision exam by an ophthalmologist. Sometimes when a senior is institutionalized this problem may get overlooked. A demented senior, for instance, may not be able to communicate that he or she can no longer see well.
Side Effects from Medicines
Many medicines that seniors might be taking, whether they are prescription or over-the-counter medications, can have sedating side effects that can affect balance and alertness. Some medicines also cause dizziness.
Many seniors walk with a cane or crutch because of osteoarthritis, osteoporosis or other orthopedic or neurological problems. Seniors or their caregivers should make sure the rubber tip on the cane is not worn out. Seniors should have good walking shoes with non-skid soles. Seniors suffering from neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s Disease can suddenly become rigid and fall without any warning, so someone should accompany them and assist them when walking down stairs.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Studies show that seniors who are deficient in Vitamin D are prone to falls.Seniors prone to falling should have a blood test to make sure they have adequate blood levels of Vitamin D. If they are deficient, their doctors can prescribe Vitamin D as a supplement and monitor them periodically with further blood tests to make sure they are not still deficient or that their blood levels of Vitamin D are not too high.
Problems with Feet
Many seniors have problems with their feet and can be prone to falling, especially if they are not wearing sturdy orthopedic shoes. Seniors who have flat feet must wear proper orthotic inserts in their shoes to keep their feet from suddenly collapsing. In fact not having inserts to keep flat feet from collapsing can also lead to a torn ligament or a fracture in the bottom of the foot while walking or getting up suddenly. This can also lead to a fall.
Sometimes if a senior’s blood pressure drops too low they can faint and fall. Seniors who are on blood pressure lowering drugs and who faint should see their doctors about changing the prescription or lowering the dosage. Seniors who suffer from very low blood pressure should consult their doctor to find a way to raise their blood pressure to keep from having fainting spells.
Strokes and Heart Attacks
Many seniors fall after experiencing a stroke or heart attack. If they die from wounds from the fall, no one will ever know, unless an autopsy is performed, that the stroke or heart attack caused the fall which led to their death.
Seniors, their families and caregivers should do everything they can to prevent falls, as falls can lead to disability, accidental death and a lot of financial expense.
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