As a child develops, many activities, such as running, jumping, climbing, and general exploration can lead to bumps, bruises, scrapes, and falls. In most cases, falls are of minor consequence as the young body is resilient and can heal quickly. Aging, though, hampers the resilience of the body which can prolong the healing process. Therefore, for seniors, falls pose as an extreme danger, and a threat to their safety and independence. Falls are an even greater challenge for those practicing elder care to prevent, as they can happen anywhere.
Why are seniors more susceptible to falling?
Falls can happen to anyone, but seniors are more at risk for serious injuries resulting from their fall. Falls can lead to fractions in the wrist, arm, ankle, or hip. More severe falls can lead to head injuries in elders. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that annually three million elders are treated in emergency rooms for falls with 800,000 patients hospitalized for head or hip fractures. 1 Furthermore, although one in four seniors will fall, only half will inform a physician, leaving potential injuries untreated.2
While the risk factors for falling are individualized, researchers have found common symptoms in those elders who have fallen:
- Poor or changing eyesight: Vision problems can hide unseen trip hazards for seniors inside and outside the home.
- Muscle weakness and pain: The ability to have a full range of motion is paramount to the continued health of seniors. Chronic or surprise pains can lead to unexpected falls for seniors.
- Confusion: From being in an unfamiliar environment to dehydration or exhaustion from being outdoors, or the side-effects of medication, confusion can lead to a lack of mental clarity which can contribute to falling.3
- Home hazards: Items such as an area rug, a broken step, or even a slick bathtub can make possible a nasty fall for elders.
The physical toll of falling for elders can be difficult, however, the mental trauma can have lasting effects. The CDC states that seniors who have fallen once are twice as likely to fall again.4 The anxiety caused by the fear of falling is common among seniors and can cause negative lifestyle changes. Seniors begin to avoid certain activities like walking, shopping, or social activities altogether. This disconnection can turn into depression and loss of purpose. |
Helping elders stay safe
Falls can happen anywhere but are not an inevitable part of life. Elder care practitioners can take simple steps to minimize falls:
- Check your senior’s vision: It is important that your senior’s eyeglass prescription is current. Even small changes in vision can lead to falls.
- Moving trip hazards at home: Caregivers should assess their senior’s home for trip hazards like curled or frayed rug edges, clutter on the floor, or broken tiles or steps. Also, consider adding gripping strips or handles to improve safety in the bathroom.
- Walking aids: If your senior is unsure about moving around, get them an assistance device like a cane or walker. These can not only prevent falls but also increase mobility and confidence.
- Know your medications: Understanding medication and its side effects is important to prevent falls. If side effects cause drowsiness or other symptoms that can lead to falling, try to determine the best time and safest location to take the medication to avoid falls.
Remember, it is always important to let your physician know when a fall happens. While it may not appear serious, a proper diagnosis can catch small problems before they grow larger.