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Falls in the Senior Population
A serious health problem :
Falls in the senior population are a serious health problem. Each year, more than 11 million senior citizens fall (one of every three people over 65). Treatment of the injuries and complications associated with falls costs the U.S. more than $20.2 billion annually. Of those adults who do fall, 20% to 30% suffer moderate to severe injuries that reduce mobility and independence, and increase the risk of premature death. -5% of these falls (360,000 – 480,000 per year) end in fractures. The most common sites of fracture include the vertebrae (in the back), the hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm (humerus) and hand. Because seniors spend most of their time at home, one-half to two-thirds of all falls occur in or around the home. Most fall injuries are caused by falls on the same level and from a standing height (for example, by tripping while walking). Therefore, it makes sense to reduce home hazards and make living areas safer.
- Hospitalizations (2003): > 1.8 million seniors age 65 and older were treated in emergency departments for fall-related injuries and more than 421,000 were hospitalized
- In 2002, nearly 13,000 people ages 65 and older died from fall-related injuries
- In 2000, direct medical costs totaled $179 million dollars for fatal and $19.3 billion dollars for nonfatal fall injuries
- At least 95% of hip fractures among older adults are caused by falls
The risk for falling, along with the risk for serious injury, increases exponentially with age. Seniors 85+ years of age are 10-15 times more likely to fracture their hip in a fall than people who are 60-65 years of age.
The following list contains modifiable risk factors for falls:
- Lower Body Weakness
- Difficulty with balance
- Difficulty with walking (needing the use of an assistive device)
- Taking 4 or more medications
- Low consumption of calcium
- Alcohol use
- Lack of exercise (leads to decreased bone strength)
- Neurological conditions (such as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Stroke)
- Cognitive impairment (Alzheimer’s, Dementia)
- Visual impairment
- Being Female
- History of a Previous Fall
- Cardiac Arrhythmias
- Osteoporosis (ask your doctor about a bone density test)
What to do if you fall:
- DO NOT PANIC. Assess the situation and determine if you are hurt.
- Slide or crawl along the floor to the nearest couch or chair and try to get up.
- If you can't get up, call for help.
- If you are alone, crawl slowly to the telephone and call 911 or relatives.
How to help reduce falls:
- Increase lower body strength and improve balance through the performance of a regular exercise program (Please check with your doctor or health care professional before starting. A physical therapist is specially trained to help identify areas that need improvement and design a program for you.)
- Review medications with a doctor or pharmacist
- Maintain healthy bone: take enough calcium and Vit D daily. May need medication to increase bone mass
- Have vision checked at least once a year
- Make living areas safer (please see MAKING LIVING AREAS SAFER)
- Wear properly fitting shoes with non-skid soles (avoid high-heels and shoes with smooth, slick soles). Make sure shoe-laces are tied.
- Make sure slippers fit snugly.
- Find out about buying a home monitoring (medical alert button) system service. Usually, you wear a button on a chain around your neck. If you fall or need emergency help, you just push the button to alert the service. Emergency staff is then sent to your home.
- Always stand up slowly after eating, lying down, or resting. Getting up too quickly can cause your blood pressure to drop, which can make you feel faint.
- Be cautious about the temperature. Being too hot can make you dizzy
- Use a cane, walking stick, or walker to help you feel steadier when you walk. Use caution in areas you are not familiar with, over uneven surfaces, over ice, snow or puddles, or in the dark.
- Wear rubber-soled shoes (with no or a low heel. Do not just wear socks.
- Hold the handrails when you use the stairs. Even when carrying something, make sure you are holding onto the handrail. If you need both hands to carry the object, ask for help instead.
- Don't take chances. Stay away from wet floors. Don’t stand on a table or chair to reach something that's too high—use a reaching stick or a stepping stool instead.
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