The Danger of Falls and How To Prevent Them

There is one central question about elders living at home home: can they do so without falling?

This cannot be emphasized enough. A large proportion of  nursing home populations arrive there after a fall, when at home care after hospitalization becomes impossible. What is it about falling  risk that makes it so tempting to disregard? Where do we get the idea that falling is what happens to others, but not to me or my family?

Falls seem innocuous, but aren’t. Falls are an underrated source of danger for all people, though this danger is not well publicized like cancer or crime violence. Falls during work kill thousands of workers per year.  Falling is also the #1 cause of death in national parks. For seniors however, the danger is greater than being on a ladder or hiking up a cliff- falling from standing height can hresult in catastrophic bone breakage.

When elders fall from standing height earlier in their lives, they get back up, perhaps bruised. Yet the sad truth is that as aging progresses, sight, balance and agility diminish. Bones become more delicate and vulnerable. As a result, one in four people over 65 have a health damaging fall every year. Indeed, falling is the leading cause of death amongst seniors. However becuase it doesn’t make as sexy a news story as a heroic battle with cancer, we hear less about it.

How can falls have mortal consequences?

It’s simple, and sad. For seniors, falling typically means broken bones- femur is common; hip is common; dislocated joints are common. Also, sometimes seniors have no way to contact anyone once they are on the ground and cannot move, worsening the injury. (Hence the importance of emergency necklaces). For example, let’s say a broken hip immobilizes the elder and prevents them from being as active as they had been, permanently even after the immobilization required for healing and then physical therapy. As a result the elder cannot exercise, which lowers the immune system, the metabolism, circulatory system, etc. From there, weight gain and depression become dangers, and the elder is more susceptible to a potentially killer illness like pneumonia. Mobility and exercise are key to health throughout life, but especially as a senior.

What’s THE best preventative?

Luckily, fixes are easy. Get rid of throw rugs and any other rug not nailed to the floor so it has no floppy edges. I heard this echoed by an EMT I know. When I mentioned my work with seniors, he immediately said “You have to get rid of throw rugs. We get a call once every 36 hours to transport someone to the hospital who has fallen!” That’s approximately 240 broken hips per year just in that city, and most from tripping on throw rugs.

Another easy fix is for elders to wear sturdy shoes with aggressive tread. Keds type soles, slippers, and other flat bottom shoes increase the fall danger. Get a light hiking boot or similar for yourself or your parent. Indeed, my mother fell down a flight of carpeted stairs several years ago after wearing Keds low-tops; a terrifying experience for us all

A third easy fix are making an effort to improve balance while health is good. A range of exercises can be found here, and on youtube.

Finally, you can call me, and together we can design retrofits your or your parents’ home to minimize the fall risk while allowing for comfortable at home living.

Photo by renjith krishnan.

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