The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that an estimated 646,000 fatal falls occur each year, making it a major public health problem. It is the second leading cause of unintentional death. The organization has also indicated that one of the key risk factors for falls is age, with older people having the highest risk of death or serious injury arising from a fall.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the number one cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in older people aged 65 and above. Data shows that one in four older Americans suffers from a fall each year. Furthermore, yearly, at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures.
A person's age can affect their physical, sensory, and cognitive abilities, which may be a contributing factor to their risk of falling. Physiological changes of a person, such as a decline in their sensory and cognitive capabilities, can affect their ability to respond to or recover from a hazardous situation like tripping.
As people age, the rate of their engagement in physical activities declines, affecting their endurance and strength, which results in the weakening of muscle strength, decrease in bone mass, and lessen their flexibility. The physical changes of a person can affect their balance and coordination and increase their fall risk.
They can develop physical impairments, such as vision or hearing loss. These impairments can make it difficult for them to detect fall hazards, such as steps or cluttered objects on the ground, leading to a dangerous fall.
Accordingly, environmental hazards have been linked to causing numerous falls. Environmental factors that can contribute to a person's fall are clutter, slippery floors, loose carpets, and the lack of safety equipment, such as grab bars and chair lifts, for seniors.
Unfortunately, older adults with health conditions are also at risk of suffering from falls. Chronic illnesses, such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease, can affect a person's grip strength, balance, cognitive abilities, increasing their risks from falls.
Medications may also increase fall risks for people. Consequently, seniors with health conditions typically use drugs that lower blood pressure, such as antihypertensive, diuretic, and some heart medications, or medications like opioids, antianxiety, and anti-depressants, which can affect their attention.
The CDC has indicated that a combination of risk factors causes most falls. However, it can be prevented through different comprehensive and multifaceted strategies that may tackle how to address the possible issues or risk factors and minimize the harm of a fall.
Falls can be prevented through medical interventions, according to WHO. Seeking doctors' aid can help identify a person's fall risk factors and address it either through medication review and modification, treatment of correctable visual impairments, improving the person's physical health through vitamin supplements, and other possible activities exercises.
There are also ways to slow down the progression of physiological changes associated with aging. Seniors do not have to have an extraneous exercise to keep their bodies active. They must consider their bodies' limits as it cannot perform the same set of activities it has done in the past. Mild exercises, such as walking, jogging, stretching, or doing yoga, Pilates, or tai chi, can help keep the strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance of older adults. Subsequently, it is also vital to keep the brain active to avoid the fast decline in cognitive abilities. Doing brain activities, such as buzzing with word puzzles, logic puzzles, or jigsaw puzzles, or playing bingo, can enhance the mind and improve a senior's memory.
As indicated, environmental hazards also cause numerous falls. So, decluttering items inside the house, which are considered to be factors for fall risk, is the most efficient way to avoid falls. Tacking away electrical or extension cords either under the rug or over a doorway can keep people safe from tripping. A person can also fall if there is not enough lighting inside the home. Also, to avoid a fall incident, homeowners should change or add lightbulbs to improve lighting inside the house. People can also invest in motion-sensitive lights.
Environmental hazards do not have to be just clutter, cables, or lighting. It can also be the lack of safety equipment to cater to seniors' needs, especially when they want to navigate their homes independently. Some of the safety equipment that people may install in their homes are: bed and stair railings, lift chairs, bathtub or shower transfer bench, and grab bars in the bathroom. Installation of safety equipment for seniors can also extend outside the house, with homeowners having the option to create ramps for entryways with steps.
It is important for seniors to take extra care of their health, including their physical and mental well-being, to avoid the probability of falling due to age-related changes in their bodies. Having regular check-ups with their doctors can keep track of their health status and have early intervention if there is an arising problem that may affect their body and contribute to their risk of falling. This infographic of Euro-American Connections & Homecare details some of the factors that cause older adults to fall.