Falls - Causes, Impacts, Risk Factors, Prevention
Author: Lane Keating
Here are some stunning statistics - each year an estimated 646,000 fatal falls occur. This makes it the second leading cause of unintentional injury death, after road traffic injuries. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. A full 25% of Americans 65 and older fall each year. The fall fatality rate for people aged 65 and older in the United States is 36.8 per 100,00 population. Surprisingly, this affects more men (46.2 per 100,000) than women (31.1 per 100,000). Additionally, seniors living in nursing homes fall more often than those living in a community. Approximately 30-50% of people living in long-term care communities fall each year and 40% of them experience recurrent falls.
So what is the impact of this falling epidemic? One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as a broken bone or head injury. Every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall and every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall. One every 19 minutes!!! Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually including over 800,000 hospitalizations and 27,000 deaths in the US. More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling - usually by falling sideways.
The monetary costs of falls are staggering. Direct costs such as medication, various treatments, and rehabilitation are compounded by indirect costs such as loss of wages to family caregivers. It’s estimated that the total medical costs for falls in 2015 totaled $50 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) in the United States.
The risk factors for falling can be biological (age, gender, chronic illness, weakness and balance issues, vision changes and loss, vertigo and hearing loss.) There are also behavioral issues that can come into play - smoking, excessive alcohol or drug use, improper footwear, risk-taking behaviors (taking the dog for a walk in icy conditions). Additionally, there can be environmental (inadequate lighting, scatter rugs, clutter, pets, and pet toys) factors as well as socioeconomic elements (inadequate housing, lack of social interaction, lack of community resources) that can contribute to the problem.
What can we do to help prevent seniors from falling? Some measures are obvious - remove throw rugs, pick up clutter and pet toys, select more appropriate footwear, check visual acuity, etc. Other actions can also have a big impact - sign up for classes that are designed to improve strength, mobility, flexibility, and balance. Consult a professional lighting designer to ensure that there’s sufficient and properly placed lighting. Speak with a health care provider to assess any medications that might contribute to the potential for falling.
Not all falls can be prevented - some risk factors are out of our control. But it’s certainly worth the time and effort to address as many factors as possible in an effort to avoid what could be a life-altering event.