Facts about falls in older adults

The aging population has created additional health concerns and challenges for major countries throughout the world. Falling is a major problem leading to serious injuries in geriatric populations. Each year, millions of older people — those 65 and older — fall. In fact, more than one out of four older people falls each year, but less than half of these individuals advise their doctor. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again.

Falls are a leading cause of death in the elderly.

In the United States, falls have become a leading cause of death due to injuries in people over 75 years of age. According to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2019, the absolute number of deaths from falls among adults aged 75 years or older increased from 8,613 in 2000 to 25,189 in 2016. The crude mortality rate increased from 51.6 per 100,000 persons in 2000 to 122.2 per 100,000 persons in 2016.

Falls are serious and costly.

Each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries. One out of five falls causes a serious injury. Over 800,000 patients per year are hospitalized due to a fall injury, most often head injury or hip fracture. In 2015, the total medical costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion.

Elderly people who survive a fall may experience significant morbidity. Many people who fall, even if they’re not injured, become afraid of falling and may reduce their activities of daily living due to fear. Compared with elderly persons who do not fall, those who fall experience greater functional decline in activities of daily living as well as in physical and social activities. They are also at greater risk for subsequent institutionalization.

There are many risk factors for falls.

Risk factors for falls include age, medication use (tranquilizers, sedatives or antidepressants), poor balance, visual disturbances, cognitive impairment, hypotension, foot problems, generalized weakness and chronic conditions (e.g., depression, diabetes or arthritis). Home hazards, such as broken or uneven steps or throw rugs that can be tripped over, also increase a person’s risk of falling.

Here are 10 steps you can take to prevent falls.

1. Ask your doctor to evaluate your risk for falling.

2. Review your medications, including over-the-counter medications, with your doctor. Know the risks of your medications and modify them as directed by your doctor.

3. Have an annual eye examination and update eyeglasses to maximize visual acuity.

4. Keep your home brightly lit to avoid tripping on objects that are difficult to see.

5. Do strength and balance exercises at least three days per week.

6. Check your home for trip hazards and remove items that you could trip over.

7. Improve home supports. For example, ensure your safety in the bathroom by adding grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower and next to the toilet.

8. Install railings on both sides of the stairs. Always hold railings when ascending or descending the stairs. Put nonslip treads on bare wood steps.

9. Wear sensible shoes. High heels, loose slippers and footwear with slippery soles can lead to falls.

10. Accept support from family for activities of daily living. If you have a security system with smart cameras, make sure your family members have access to the video feed so they can call for assistance if they see that you’ve fallen.

By implementing fall prevention measures, living at home with a good quality of life can be a realistic option for many years to come.

To find out more about Julie Rosenberg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.


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