National Fall Prevention Week

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Falls Among Older Adults: An Overview

How big is the problem?
What outcomes are linked to falls?
Who is at risk?

Each year, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls. Falls can lead to moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head traumas, and can even increase the risk of early death. Fortunately, falls are a public health problem that is largely preventable.
How big is the problem?

One out of three adults age 65 and older falls each year.1,2
Among those age 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of injury death. They are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma.3
In 2007, over 18,000 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries.3
The death rates from falls among older men and women have risen sharply over the past decade.4
In 2009, 2.2 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults were treated in emergency departments and more than 581,000 of these patients were hospitalized.3
In 2000, direct medical costs of falls totaled a little over $19 billion—$179 million for fatal falls and $19 billion for nonfatal fall injuries.5

What outcomes are linked to falls?

Twenty percent to 30% of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures, or head traumas. These injuries can make it hard to get around or live independently, and increase the risk of early death.6,7
Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries, or TBI.8 In 2000, TBI accounted for 46% of fatal falls among older adults.4
Most fractures among older adults are caused by falls.9 The most common are fractures of the spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm, and hand.10
Many people who fall, even if they are not injured, develop a fear of falling. This fear may cause them to limit their activities, leading to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness, which in turn increases their actual risk of falling.11

Who is at risk?

Fatal falls

In 2007, 81% of fall deaths were among people 65 and older.3
Men are more likely to die from a fall. After adjusting for age, the fall fatality rate in 2007 was 46% higher for men than for women.3
Older whites are 2.5 times more likely to die from falls as their black counterparts.3
Older non–Hispanics have higher fatal fall rates than Hispanics.12

Nonfatal falls

The chances of falling and of being seriously injured in a fall increase with age. In 2009, the rate of fall injuries for adults 85 and older was almost four times that for adults 65 to 74.3
People age 75 and older who fall are four to five times more likely than those age 65 to 74 to be admitted to a long-term care facility for a year or longer.13
Women are more likely than men to be injured in a fall. In 2008, women were 46% more likely than men to suffer a nonfatal fall injury.3
Rates of fall-related fractures among older women are more than twice those for men.14
Falls may lead to hip fractures. In 2006, the hip fracture rate for older women was almost twice the rate for men.15
White women have significantly higher hip fracture rates than black women.16

TIPS for preventing falls:

Indoor Lighting
Make sure stairways and hallways have bright light. Always try to use the highest wattage allowed in the bulb. Night lights for those middle of the night trips to the bathroom can make a big difference in preventing falls.

Just having things out of place can cause falls. When objects are out of their normal place, they can be overlooked and tripped over.

Extension cords
Find a way to arrange your furniture so that the extension cords are out of the way.

Lack of handrails
Don’t use the soap or towel holder for a grab bar or handrail. It wasn’t designed to hold the weight of a human being.

Scatter rugs
Be sure all throw rugs or scatter rugs have a non skid backing.
Somehow these precious little creatures manage to get under our feet and can cause a fall. Be aware of where your pet is and be careful when visiting others who have pets too.

Outdoor Lighting
Is just as important as indoor lighting. Use all the available outdoor lights whenever possible. Sensor lights are available that will turn on whenever there’s movement. That’s good for you and bad for intruders.

Lack of handrails
Use handrails on all steps no matter how easy the steps are to climb or how many times you’ve been up and down them before.

Uneven walking surfaces
Be sure to avoid broken sidewalks or areas under construction, if at all possible.

Mother Nature
Mother Nature presents many hazards of falling. Snow is the greatest culprit. When you’re out in your cars, park where it is clear of snow and ice. Try to keep your driving to daylight hours so that you are able to see the patches of ice on the streets and in the parking lots. A bag of kitty litter (the non-clumping kind) in your car, with a scoop made from cutting off the bottom a half gallon milk or orange juice container, can be used to create traction and help you get out when your car is stuck. Use the buddy system. Let someone know where you are or ,better yet, take a friend with you when you travel.

Changes in Our Body
Some of the reasons seniors tend to fall more often are changes in vision, lack of flexibility, less muscle strength, especially in our legs, and changes in sleep patterns. It is important to have an eye examination every year and wear the glasses as prescribed by the eye doctor. Exercise on a regular basis can increase muscle strength and flexibility and improve balance. Regular exercise will help you sleep better as well.

Chronic Health Conditions
High blood pressure and heart problems can cause dizziness that can lead to falls. Remember to get up from a laying down position slowly if you have heart problems or high blood pressure. Many elders fall while trying to make a run for the restroom because of difficulty controlling the bladder. Talk to your doctor about what can be done for this condition. This will help reduce your risk of falling.

Both prescription medications and over the counter medications can cause side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness. Talk to your nurse, physician, or pharmacist about the side effects to expect from your medication. If the side effects continue, talk to you physician about changing the medication. Make sure if you see more than one physician that each one knows ALL the drugs you’re taking. Take all of your medications, including over the counter medications with you each time you visit the doctor. This way the doctors will be able to see exactly what you’re taking and how much.

Be Active Be Well

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