Stat Check: Falls in the Elderly Population

May 5, 2016

Stat Check: Falls in the Elderly Population

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To promote independence and living at home as long as possible, good mobility function in elders is necessary. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), approximately 1/3 of seniors fall each year. Most trip and fall accidents happen in the home. Not only are falls pricey in terms of health care costs, they are also damaging to the senior that experiences a fall, as more than half of community-dwelling elders over 62 report a fear of falling. Unfortunately, this can lead to diminished mobility and activity restriction and further physical decline.

Fall Fast Facts

One in three seniors fall each year, but less than half of these seniors will report their falls to their doctors. In nursing homes, 50% of residents fall, and two-thirds of seniors that experience a fall will fall again within 6 months.

Every 13 seconds, or 2.5 million older people each year are treated in an emergency department due to fall injuries. This results in about 734,000 hospitalizations and 21,700 deaths. Every 20 minutes, an older person dies from a fall.

Falls are responsible for 25% of all hospital admissions, and 40% of all nursing home admissions. A total of 40% of older patients admitted will not return to independent living.

While many falls do not cause serious injuries, one in five falls causes serious injury such as broken bones or head injury. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans, and the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries.

95% of hip fractures are from falling – usually sideways. 90% of hip fractures from falls are in seniors, and women are more likely to fracture their hips due to a higher prevalence of osteoporosis. A quarter of seniors that fracture their hip from a fall will die within 6 months of the injury.

More than half of community-dwelling elders report a fear of falling, and 56% of older persons restrict their activities due to this fear.

Annually, total costs for treating fall injuries (what patients and insurance companies paid) totaled $34 billion. Fall injuries are among the top 20 most expensive medical conditions to treat with the average hospital cost at $35,000. The costs of treatment go up with age.

What are the effects of a fall?

Long after the physical injury heals, the psychological scars can remain. The most obvious effect of a fall is physical injury, however, a senior who experiences a fall may experience a loss of mobility, a decline of confidence, and develop an intense fear of falling. Even older adults that have fallen and not gotten injured can become terrified of falling.

These seniors may not be confident in their abilities to keep their balance in various walking scenarios. As a result, they may limit their activities and even social engagement. This can lead to depression, social isolation, feelings of helplessness, and physical decline. When these seniors limit their physical activity, they can become weaker, making them more prone to future falls.

Risk factors for falls

A combination of risk factors can cause an older person to fall.  The more factors your senior loved one has, the more likely they are to fall. Many of these can be changed to help prevent falls. Some of these factors include:

  • Medication reactions
  • Blood pressure issues
  • Vision problems
  • Foot pain or poor footwear
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Home hazards (which can include rugs or clutter, lack of handrails, and broken or uneven steps)

By eliminating or decreasing the factors above, you can help to greatly reduce the chance of falls.

Preventing falls

Even though they are pretty common in elderly populations, falls do not have to be a part of life. There are steps that you can take to reduce the chance of falls.

Encourage your older loved one to lead a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity and proper nutrient intake. Exercise helps to increase flexibility, endurance, strength, and balance. These all will significantly reduce the chance of falls. Ensure that your loved one is getting calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium, calcium helps lead to better bone health.

Be sure to remove hazards from the home, especially in the bathroom, that an elder could trip over. Get rid of clutter, make sure there is enough bright lighting, and install railings on stairs.

Talk with your senior’s physician and determine if the medications being taken put your loved one at risk of dizziness or drowsiness. Make sure an eye screening is done at least once a year and update eyeglasses as needed.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How can I make my house safe for my elderly parent?

When you have older adults living with you, modifying your home so they can get around safely is one way to extend their independence and mobility. Upsettingly, fall-related injuries are a leading cause of hospital and emergency room visits for seniors. Some easy way to prevent falls around the home are to:

  • Improve the lighting
  • Make sure open, high-traffic areas are clear of things that your elder could slip or trip on
  • Make sure rugs or loose carpets are secured
  • Install extra grab rails around the home, and especially in the bathroom

The shower is an area where falls happen many times due to the combination of getting in or out of the shower and wet floors. If possible, consider getting a walk-in tub to make bathing easier for your senior.

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What safety products/features should I invest in to help prevent my elderly parents from falls?

Falls are the most common injury among seniors, so investing in products that prevent falls is ideal. Make sure handrails are secure, carpets and rugs are tacked down, and that any uneven surfaces are addressed! Also consider getting a bath bench or walk-in tub, as well as proper handrails and mats for bathroom safety. In the unfortunate event of a fall, having proper emergency response technology is also a great idea to make sure seniors are able to phone for help when needed. 

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