UPDATED AUGUST 2021
About one in every four older people falls annually and falls are the leading cause of injury and death from “unintentional injuries” for people 55 and older according to the Centers for Disease Control.1 Lifeline’s research shows that for people living with cognitive impairment, the risk is even greater. They fall more often and experience severe enough complications to require emergency transport.2
“Imagine not knowing where you are and not recognizing the people around you — that experience alone can make someone anxious and panicked,” says Paul Adams, senior director of product management for Lifeline. “And when you’re anxious and panicked, you tend to move too quickly and carelessly.”
In addition to these emotional and psychological factors, Alzheimer’s and related dementias are associated with impaired vision3 and changes in gait and balance4, which also increase fall risk. Other risk factors include complications from other chronic conditions and side effects from medications.
4 Tips to Assess Cognitive Decline and Reduce Fall Risk
There are many ways to lower overall fall risk. Here are four related specifically to cognitive impairment:
- Talk with your doctor about the possibility of cognitive impairment, and as soon as possible after your fall. Use this handy checklist to prepare for your visit.
- Request annual cognitive and mobility assessments as part of your regular checkup. “Everyone who has Medicare is entitled to an annual wellness exam measuring both physical and cognitive function,” explains Jennifer Blackwood, associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Michigan-Flint and a board-certified geriatric clinical specialist. “Based on the results of those tests, a patient can be referred to a physical therapist for assessment.”
- Stay active. According to the National Institute on Aging, ongoing physical activity benefits the brain and cognition.5 “I tell my patients that exercise is the right medicine if they want to reduce the risk of falling,” she says. The right activities help you increase strength and balance that keep you steadier on your feet. Ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist or exercise physiologist who can find the best activities to meet goals and reduce fall risk.
- Consider a medical alert device with automatic fall detection technology. Rapid response to falls is critical to reducing their impact on overall health. Lifeline’s research shows that 60% of seniors who don’t request help within the first hour after a fall can’t return to living independently. A low-profile wearable like the Lifeline's On the Go can detect a fall6 and automatically contact a call center for you.
The increased risk of falls and injury for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is serious. Understanding the facts and addressing potential hazards and harms lessens the likelihood of taking a tumble.
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 Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online] - public-use data file and documentation.
2 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
6 AutoAlert does not detect 100% of falls. If able, users should always push their buttons when they need help. Button signal range may vary due to differing environmental factors.