Fatal Falls Are Increasing: How Seniors Can Protect Themselves

Fatal Falls Are Increasing

Here’s a sobering reality: more seniors are dying of falls than ever before.

Even with better awareness of fall prevention strategies and aging in place home modifications, the number of deaths among seniors and the elderly as a result of falls has risen by over 10,000 deaths per year since 1999. When adjusted for age, that’s a more than two-fold increase in the number of deaths as a result of fall complications.1

And every demographic shows this increasing trend – women, men, and all racial groups saw the same jump, according to a study conducted by Pennsylvania State University and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

As if that weren’t bad enough, keep in mind that these sobering statistics are only related to fatalities, but there are far more seniors who suffer serious injuries from falls. The CDC reports that more than one in four seniors falls each year, and three million of them wind up in the emergency department for treatment of their injuries. About 800,000 of them are hospitalized for further treatment, often for a hip fracture or traumatic brain injury.2

And that’s not including the elderly who fall and never tell anyone, even their doctors. Many of them might fear losing their independence or making their loved ones worry, leading them to keep silent – sometimes even if they have injuries.

Why Are More Adults Dying From Falls?

There are several reasons why senior and elderly adults might be having more falls, and especially more fatalities following a fall.

·        Advances in medicine mean that many seniors are not only living longer, but may also be managing chronic health issues. Though this is undoubtedly a good thing, the problems that accompany health or medical issues can lead to an increased risk of falls.

·        The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that almost 90% of elderly adults are on medications for chronic conditions.3 With so many medications, it can be easy to experience interactions, and those can lead to serious consequences. That might include weakness, dizziness, and other side effects that can easily lead to falls. And in some cases, even a single medication – with no interactions at all – might have side effects that increase your fall risk.

·        As we age, our eyesight and hearing naturally age too. Problems with vision, including the blurry vision that is most common for all of us as we get older, can make it tough to see where you’re going. And those who suffer from hearing loss are more likely to suffer from falls.

·        Reduced energy and mobility may lead to not keeping up with frequent or consistent housekeeping and cleaning duties, which can then lead to clutter. And a cluttered home is a known risk for falls.

·        Once a person suffers a fall, their confidence diminishes. That might explain why those who fall are much more likely to fall again. And even if that first fall didn’t lead to significant injury, a subsequent fall might.

·        Those who suffer from certain medical conditions might find that those health issues contribute to worse consequences after a fall. For instance, someone who has diabetes and must have surgery to fix a broken hip might find that infection sets in easily, and that can lead to many other problems. Death could result not from the fall itself, but from the complications that result from underlying conditions being aggravated.  

Finally, those who do fall down and don’t get help right away can suffer from what experts call “the long lie.” It happens when a person lies on the floor for an extended period of time. They can suffer secondary problems, such as dehydration, hypothermia, muscle breakdown, and more – in addition to the pain they are already in. That’s a good argument for a medical alert pendant or wristband, as these devices allow you to summon help at the press of a button, thus ensuring that “the long lie” won’t happen to you.

Important Fall Prevention Measures

When it comes to falling, choosing a dedicated medical alert for elderly individuals is one of the best things you could do for yourself and the ones you love. But in addition to this, there are other ways to stay safer at home and on the go.

·        Keep your home free of clutter. The more things obstructing your path, the more likely you are to fall. Keep the pathways in your home clear of anything that could trip you up, from that stack of books in the corner to that throw rug in the hallway. Electrical cords, in particular, are serious culprits for falls.

·        Have a medication review. Some medications are known to cause dizziness or weakness. And sometimes, over the counter medications can interact with prescription meds and lead to side effects. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the medications you are on and whether they might be contributing to unsteadiness on your feet.

·        Use assistive devices as needed. If you have been prescribed a cane, walker, or wheelchair, use the devices you are supposed to use. Do it every time you walk around your home, even if you think you don’t need it. The one time you try to go without it might be the one time you regret it.

·        Choose appropriate home modifications. Think about what you need to make your home safer. Grab bars around the toilet and in the shower or tub are a first line of defense; a senior falling sideways out of the shower is often the cause of serious hip fractures. Non-skid flooring might be a good idea to replace or cover slick hardwood.

·        Wear a medical alert necklace or bracelet. With an emergency button alert designed to help you; if you fall down and get hurt, you can be rest assured that you won’t have to face the dire consequences that could result from lying on the floor in pain, waiting and hoping for help to arrive.

·        Have regular check-ins. Ask family and friends to call or stop by when they can. And if you are feeling “off” at all, let them know.

·        Be especially careful when you’re sick. No matter the medications you are on or how good your health normally is, getting sick can change things quite a bit. Even a bout with a serious cold can be enough to make it tough to breathe, give you an awful headache, and otherwise make you want to stay in bed all day. The things illness does as your body starts to fight it can make you feel terrible. That might include weakness, dizziness, confusion, fatigue, and more. Be vigilant about falls always, but especially when you are under the weather.

·        Wear the proper shoes. Wearing shoes outside is a no-brainer, but did you know that you should wear shoes inside the house as well? Your shoes should be in good condition, well-fitted, just the right size, and not cause any pain, pinching, or rubbing. They should also have non-skid, flat soles.

·        Be aware of the conditions outside. Pay attention to the weather, no matter the season. If it’s going to be snowy and icy outside, plan accordingly with the right shoes, any assistive devices you might need, and a plan B on how to get around. If it’s too risky, don’t leave the house if you can avoid it. The same counts when it comes to heavy rain or serious wind.

·        Get your eyes and hearing checked. It makes sense to get your eyes checked as a fall prevention measure, but your hearing? Turns out that even mild hearing loss can increase your odds of a fall by three-fold. The more hearing loss you have, the more your balance suffers, and the more likely you are to lose your footing.4 Make appointments to get checked out and if you are suffering from vision or hearing problems, correct them.

Pay Attention to Your Fall Risk

If you’re not sure how much of a risk you are facing when it comes to falls, it’s time to talk to your doctor. You can also look to this guide from the National Council on Aging to determine where you might fall on the spectrum of risk.

When it comes to fall prevention strategies, there are many good options that can keep you and your home safer and leave you feeling more secure. One of those is the use of a in-home or on-the-go (mobile) medical alarm to guarantee you can get help if needed.

Alert1 wishes you abundant health and safety!