Falls in the elderly are one of the most common causes of hospital visits. In fact, emergency departments treated 2.3 million nonfatal fall injuries in seniors in 2010, according to statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 662,000 of these older adults required hospitalization for their injuries.
Understanding why seniors are more at risk for falls than younger people is key in being proactive about fall prevention. There are a number of common causes of falls in older adults, and many seniors have more than one fall risk. The top causes include the following:
1. Environmental Hazards: Most falls occur at home, which makes it easier to take steps to reduce your fall risk. The National Institute on Aging offers a number of tips to fall-proof your home, from installing handrails to using a night-light. These tips can be used as a checklist to help protect yourself from falls at home.
2. Illness: Some diseases can make you feel dizzy, weak, or confused. These include diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Being diagnosed with one of these diseases can raise your fall risk considerably. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor to determine how to best handle your diagnosis and prevent it from affecting your mobility.
3. Loss of Strength: Both medical issues and their treatments can lead to a loss of strength. Hip replacement surgeries often leave seniors weaker and with less mobility than before, and arthritis may make it difficult to grip a cane, walker, or handrail. Even without illness or injury, a sedentary lifestyle can cause decreased bone mass, poor flexibility, and loss of strength. Exercising regularly can help prevent loss of strength and increase flexibility.
4. Sensory Issues: Many seniors struggle with issues seeing or hearing as they age. Because these senses are used to survey one’s environment, having impaired sight or hearing can increase your fall risk. Additionally, some illnesses can cause numbness in the hands and feet that can lead to similar issues. For this reason, having your vision and hearing checked regularly becomes more important as you age.
5. Medications: There are several ways that medication can increase your risk of falling. Some medicines — such as those for heart conditions, sleep disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, or depression — can lead to dizziness and cause you to lose your balance. At the same time, any senior who is taking four or more prescriptions is at an increased risk. A recent change in medications can also make a fall more likely. To minimize this risk, you should talk to your doctor immediately if you feel unsteady on your feet after starting a new medication.
Falls in the elderly are not uncommon, but they do not have to happen. Many are easily prevented by taking a proactive approach to reducing your fall risk. You can also be proactive in being prepared in case a fall does occur. Investing in a medical alert device with fall detection technology is a great way to ensure help is never far away after a fall.