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What Happens When Seniors Fall & How Automatic Fall Detection Can Help

Each year, 1 in 3 older Americans takes a fall. According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of injuries and deaths from injury for seniors.1

That’s because there are a number of potential complications from falling, even if the person can get back up.

What Happens When Seniors Fall?

For seniors, falls are often not just falls. There can be serious complications from not getting immediate help as well as other issues, including:

Bone breaks and fractures: These injuries must be set quickly to avoid further problems. “Tissue necrosis from injuries can lead to renal damage,” says Teresa McCarthy, MD, MS, and assistant professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Family Practice and Community Health. “And annual mortality after a hip fracture is very high.”

Head injuries: Falls cause more than 60% of seniors’ traumatic brain injuries.2 “If someone falls and hits their head, there may be bleeding within the skull that can cause a stroke and even death,” says Edward Schneider, MD, of the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

Cardiovascular complications: It’s especially important for seniors with cardiovascular issues to get help quickly after a fall. “Cardiac patients may be on anticoagulant drugs and would be more at risk for internal bleeding,” Schneider says. Cardiac arrest and stroke can also cause falls. Medical staff has about 90 minutes to restore blood flow to avoid significant heart damage after a heart attack.3 Getting medical help within 60 minutes of a stroke doubles your chances of receiving tPA treatment.4

“Lie time” issues: Half of seniors who fall can’t get up on their own.5 A landmark study from the University of California-San Francisco found that “lie time” (how long you are down) of 72 hours increases mortality by 67%.“Being immobilized can cause pressure sores and dehydration, the latter of which can cause cardiovascular collapse, renal failure, and confusion, according to McCarthy.

Psychological distress: When seniors can’t get up, they may become more agitated from fear of being alone, or become disoriented or confused. Even if someone can get up on his or her own, he or she may begin to worry about falling again or losing independence in the future.

But a fall doesn’t have to be catastrophic.

“Acknowledging a fall, seeking assistance in evaluating the cause, and identifying preventive interactions can allow someone to remain as independent as possible,” McCarthy asserts.

How Automatic Fall Detection Can Help

Research shows that getting up from a fall in under an hour decreases mortality rate to 12%.7 Automatic fall detection devices can help seniors get back on their feet faster, yet 64% of seniors don’t take advantage of this potentially life-saving technology.8

Using a medical alert system with automatic fall detection provides an added layer of support, notifying a response center even if you don’t or can’t press the help button. For example, Philips Lifeline with AutoAlert fall detection constantly measures changes in height, orientation to a horizontal position, and velocity to distinguish between normal activity and a fall. When AutoAlert detects a fall, it provides quick access to help by automatically alerting response professionals.9

Automatic fall detection improves response times dramatically. For instance, it takes only 21 seconds for Philips Personal Emergency Response Center staff to answer a call after a button is pressed or a fall detected.10 That’s exponentially faster than the average two-hour wait time if you decide to call for help on your own.11 (Wait times may be even longer for seniors living in rural areas.)

Complications from falling don’t have to be dire. Consider a medical alert device with automatic fall detection to help your loved one remain more active, retain independence and stay healthier.


1 http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0922-older-adult-falls.html
2 http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/pdf/blue_book.pdf
3 http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/heart_attack.htm
4 https://www.caring.com/questions/golden-hour-stroke
5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web–based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. Accessed September 2016.
6 Gurley RJ, Lum N, Sande M, Lo B, Katz MH. Persons Found in Their Homes Helpless or Dead, NEJM 1996; 334(26): 1710-1716.
7 Gurley RJ, Lum N, Sande M, Lo B, Katz MH. Persons Found in Their Homes Helpless or Dead, NEJM 1996; 334(26): 1710-1716.
8 https://www.caring.com/infographics/senior-fall-prevention-by-the-numbers
9 AutoAlert does not detect 100% of falls.  If able, a user should always push their button when they need help.
10 According to results from an analysis of Philips Home Monitoring internal data collected from Aug. 2015 through Aug. 2016. All data is reported with a +/- 95% confidence interval.
11 http://www.usa.philips.com/b-dam/corporate/healthysociety/v2/Chronic_conditions_and_high_risk_of_falling_Lifeline_retrospective_study_Fall_Prevention_Report.pdf

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