UPDATED AUGUST 2021
Falling is a serious health and wellbeing issue for older Americans. The CDC estimates that more than one-quarter of older people fall each year and less than half tell their doctors. Additionally, falling once doubles the chances of falling again.1 Importantly, falls are the leading cause of injury and death from “unintentional injuries” for people 55 and older.2
This is why real talk and transparency about fall risk, complications and prevention helps keep older adults safer and more independent and increases family members’ peace of mind.
“Acknowledging a fall, seeking assistance in evaluating the cause, and identifying preventive interactions can allow someone to remain as independent as possible,” asserts Teresa McCarthy, MD, MS, and assistant professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Family Practice and Community Health.
There are two types of impacts from a fall: immediate injuries and associated complications.
Injuries You Can Get from Falling
The two most common injuries associated with falls are:
- Bone breaks and fractures. These injuries must be set quickly to avoid further problems. “Tissue necrosis from injuries can lead to renal damage, and annual mortality after a hip fracture is very high,” McCarthy explains.
- Head injuries. Falls cause more than 60% of seniors’ traumatic brain injuries.3 “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.
3 Complications of Falls in the Elderly
Several potential issues can arise from not getting immediate help, even if the person gets back up. The most serious complications from a fall include:
- Cardiovascular issues: Seniors with cardiovascular issues need to get help quickly after a fall. "Cardiac patients may be on anticoagulant drugs and would be more at risk for internal bleeding," Schneider cautions. Speed is also crucial if the fall was precipitated by a heart attack or stroke. When performed within the first few minutes after cardiac arrest, CPR can double or triple the chance of survival.4 Getting fast help after a stroke is also vital. The National Institutes of Health says proper treatment should be administered within 60 minutes, even if symptoms occur and fade quickly because of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which can be followed within hours or days by a major disabling stroke if not treated quickly.5 Learn more about cardiovascular disease and fall risk.
- “Lie time” impacts: Lying on cold flooring or the ground can bring on hypothermia, according to the Cleveland Clinic, because it increases the body’s rate of cooling. This is especially true if the fallen person is wet, undernourished or inadequately clothed. Additionally, “being immobilized can cause pressure sores and dehydration, the latter of which can cause cardiovascular collapse, renal failure and confusion,” McCarthy notes.
- Psychological distress: A recent meta-study found an association between general anxiety and fall-related psychological concerns among older adults.6 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 their own, they may begin to worry about falling again or losing independence in the future. Read more about dealing with the fear of falling.
Happily, a fall doesn’t have to be catastrophic.
How Elderly Fall Detection Devices Help
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, 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.7
Automatic fall detection improves response times dramatically. For instance, it takes only 21 seconds for Lifeline’s trained Response Center staff to answer a call after a button is pressed or a fall detected.8 That’s exponentially faster than the average two-hour wait time if you decide to call for help on your own. (Wait times may be even longer for seniors living in rural areas.)9
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.
Don’t disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking it, because of what you read here. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional consultation, diagnosis or treatment; it is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied. Always consult a healthcare provider if you have specific questions about any medical matter, and seek professional attention immediately if you think you or someone in your care may be experiencing a healthcare condition or medical emergency.
1 CDC - National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Important Facts about Falls. https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html. July 19, 2021
2 CDC - National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. Web–based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online] - public-use data file and documentation.
3 CDC - National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Get the Facts About TBI. https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html. July 19, 2021.
4 CDC - National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. Three Things You May Not Know About CPR. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/cpr.htm. July 19, 2021.
6 Payette MC, Bélanger C, Léveillé V, Grenier S. Fall-Related Psychological Concerns and Anxiety among Community-Dwelling Older Adults: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2016;11(4):e0152848. Published 2016 Apr 4. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0152848
7 AutoAlert does not detect 100% of falls. If able, a user should always push their button when they need help.
8 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.
9 Chronic conditions and the high risk of falling. Tine Smits, Research Scientist, Philips Research; Andrea Ryter, Senior Global Product Manager, Philips Healthcare, Home Monitoring http://origin-qps.onstreammedia.com/origin/multivu_archive/ENR/271586-Fall-Prevention-Report_FINAL.pdf