A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has shown a significant increase in the number of Americans 75 years or older dying from falls. The study has shown a near doubling in the death rate from the years 2000 to 2016.
Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among older American adults. Nearly 30% of older adults reported falling at least once during the previous 12 months (approximately 29 million falls), with over 35% needing medical treatment or restricted activity for 24 hours after the incident. In fact, an older adult dies from a fall every 20 minutes in the United States.
The reasons for the increase in the rate of fatal falls among older adults was not identified in the study. However, some theories as to why there might be an increase is that people are living longer, alone and more independently than ever before. Some of the risk factors that cause falls include:
- Chronic illnesses (diabetes, arthritis, stroke, etc...)
- Poor vision
- Environmental factors (house clutter, slippery floors, etc...)
- Poor balance
- Alcohol use
- Poor mobility
- Poor strength
The study concludes that we need to do more to help seniors avoid falling. Luckily, fall prevention programs have been shown to reduce the risk of falling among older adults by over 25%. Falls are linked to more than one factor, and the risk of falling increases when multiple risk factors are present.
Among some of the recommendations to prevent falls are:
- Exercise to improve strength and balance
- Review prescription medications with links to falling
- Get vision checked annually
- Make home senior friendly:
- Install handrails in shower and by toilets
- Install bright lighting
- Install non-slip mats in the bathroom, shower and by the sink
- Install handrails on both sides of stairwells
- Fix loose stairs
- Wear proper footwear (no high heels, no slippers without backing around the heel)
With more people living alone and aging in place longer than ever, the risks of falling and not getting the help one needs quickly, can amplify the risk of injury, turning a broken hip into shock and even hypothermia. Many hospitals recommend people who are at risk of falling get a personal emergency response system (also known as a life alert, medical alert system or lifeline) installed in their home before being discharged from their hospitals. These systems allow people to press for help in the event of a fall and some even have automatic fall detection that will summon help even if you can't.
So what's the takeaway from the research? Falls are a serious risk for the health and safety of older adults. However, it's also one of the more preventable injuries. Among the things you can do to prevent falling, the most effective is to exercise and remain active, with your doctors permission of course. Simply walking 20 minutes a day can dramatically improve your chances of staying on your feet. So give it a try and enjoy all the other benefits that come with it, like a healthy heart and clear mind!