Alzheimer’s & Dementia Patients at Higher Risk of Falls and Serious Injury

“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 Philips Lifeline. “And when you’re anxious and panicked, you tend to move too quickly and carelessly.”

According to the latest figures from the National Council on Aging, at least one in three adults over 65 fall every year.Falls are the leading cause of injury and death for older Americans, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug-maker Merck estimates that approximately one-third of seniors who live at home fall at least once a year, and most of those tumbles occur when seniors with physical or medical conditions encounter stairs, electrical cords or a ringing doorbell or phone.

For people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the risk is even greater.

And for people with Alzheimer’s disease, the risk is even greater due to any number of complicating factors. As the disease progresses, those can include problems with vision, perception, and balance. There is evidence to suggest that, even in early stages of the disease, Alzheimer’s patients’ gaits change, making them less steady on their feet. Then there is the simple fact that the confusion cognitive impairment causes can lead to panic.

Alzheimer’s & Dementia Leads to More Falls, More Serious Injury

Our own research shows that seniors with cognitive impairment, which includes those suffering fromincluding Alzheimer’s and dementia, fell 54 percent more than seniors who do not have awithout chronic conditions. And older adults with Alzheimer’s are actually three times more likely to suffer from hip fractures than those without the disease, according to a 2010 study reported in the British medical journal Age and Ageing.

As these diseases progress, patients can experience declining vision, perception, and balance. Evidence suggests that, even in early stages of the disease, Alzheimer’s patients’ gaits change, making them less steady on their feet. Patients’ weakened conditions tend to make falls more serious. The range of factors discussed above — alongAdditional factors that increase the likelihood of falling include  with complications from co-morbidity (other chronic conditions) and side effects from medications — contribute to the increased risk of falling,.

Older adults with Alzheimer’s are three times more likely to suffer from hip fractures than those without the disease, according to a study reported in the British medical journal Age and Ageing. and the weakened condition of the Alzheimer’s patient tends to make the fall more serious. The pain and suffering from the bBroken hipbones can lead to surgery and hospitalization, which can increase leading to further hospitalization and disorientation. Often, the serious injuryies makes it impossible for a patients to remain at home. EAnd, even more troubling: was the study found ’s finding that a broken hip is more likely to prove fatal to people with Alzheimer’s or dementia than to those without dementiacognitive impairment.

But tThere are ways to reduce the risk of falls and injuries in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients of falling in patients with dementia and avoid the vicious cycle.

Tips for Preventing Falls for You or a Loved One

  • Talk with your doctor about the possibility of cognitive impairment .
  • and Request annual assessmentsbe sure he or she includes assessments of cognitive and physical function in the annual wellness exam. “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 in physical therapy. Based on the results of those tests, a patient can be referred to a physical therapist for assessment.”
  • Stay active. The Alzheimer’s Association provides guidelines for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients, with a section dedicated to safety and preventing falls.“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 help you find the best activities to meet your goals and reduce fall risk
  • Review the Alzheimer’s Association guidelines for increasing safety and reducing fall risk – useful to seniors and their caregivers.
  • Consider a medical alert device with automatic fall detection technology. These low-profile wearables not only detect a fall, but also automatically contact a call center for you. Rapid response to falls is critical to reducing their impact on overall health. In fact, our research shows that 60% of seniors who don’t request help within the first hour after a fall can’t return to living independently.

The increased risk of falls and serious injury for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is serious. Understanding the situation and taking steps to reduce potential hazards and harms is critical for patients and their caregivers. Use this information to lessen 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 suffering from a healthcare condition. 

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