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Falls: High Costs and Steeper Risks

Published: Oct 6, 2014

Falls: High Costs and Steeper Risks

Each year, one third of seniors aged 65 or older suffers a fall. While falling may seem a rather benign occurrence for most young and not-so-young people, the effects on older seniors can often be devastating financially and physically. Consider these facts:

  • In 2010, medical costs related to falls for seniors totaled $30 billion, adjusted for inflation.
  • Fractures and internal injuries resulting from falls are the primary catalysts for senior adult admissions to long-term care facilities related to falls, especially in seniors 75 or older.
  • Falls are the leading cause of injury and death in seniors 65 and over.
  • Elderly men are more likely to die from fall-related injuries than women, although elderly women account for the highest rates of emergency room visits for fall-related injuries.
  • The risk of serious injury from a fall increases significantly with age. Rates of injuries nearly double for adults ages 75 to 84 when compared with the 65- to 74-year old age group. The rates nearly double again when comparing the 75- to 84-year-old age group with the 85-year+ age group.

Why are seniors more greatly affected by falls?

Many factors account for the more devastating effects falls can have on seniors. Biological changes, such as muscle weakness, vision loss, osteoporosis, physical disabilities, and loss of coordination and balance, can contribute to greater injuries resulting from falls. Medications can affect a person’s agility and gait, and interestingly, there is a very strong connection between the presence of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and falls. One study showed that women who experienced one or more periods of urgency or incontinence associated with UTIs per week had a significant increased fall risk, most likely due to the need to rush to the bathroom.

Behaviours are also contributors. Older adults, feeling fully capable of conducting business as usual, may attempt to do tasks that were once easy but now put them at risk for falling. Climbing on ladders to clean or hang items, pruning trees, and shoveling snow are examples of activities that can place senior adults at risk of falling. Other behaviours, such as an inadequate or poor diet, little or no exercise, and alcohol abuse are additional risk factors. Finally, environmental factors such as poor lighting, uneven flooring or loose carpets, and lack of handrails are major causes of falls.

 How can seniors prevent falls?

In the majority of cases, the risk of falling can be reduced through awareness and behavioral and environmental changes. It is important for seniors and their families to understand what the risks are and how to avoid them. Older adults should honestly assess their current physical condition and recognize if they have any limitations so they can ask for help if necessary. Asking for help can be difficult for many people who have been independent their entire lives, so friends and families may want to take the initiative and simply offer to help with tasks that may put the older person at risk.

Older adults can also initiate lifestyle changes that will help reduce the risk of falls or the repercussions of a fall. Specific lifestyle changes include

  • exercising regularly, specifically focusing on leg-strengthening exercises and exercises to improve mobility, agility, balance, and coordination.
  • staying hydrated and maintaining a healthy diet.
  • reviewing medications with a healthcare provider to identify those that may cause dizziness or impair senses.
  • reducing or eliminating alcohol intake.
  • getting regular checkups and eye exams.
  • assessing the home environment to eliminate fall hazards, such as electrical cords running across walkways; clutter on floors; and loose tiles, floorboards, or carpets.
  • adding safety features to the home, such as railings on stairs, grab bars in the bathroom, and additional light fixtures throughout the home.
  • using assistive devices, such as canes or walkers, as recommended by physicians.

At some point seniors or their families may decide that the senior could use more regular assistance with daily tasks and may benefit from seeking home care services. In-home caregivers can aid seniors in their activities so they can accomplish their tasks successfully and safely. Services can include assistance with light housekeeping, cooking, daily tasks, errand running, toileting and incontinence care, and more. In-home care agencies may assess the senior’s home environment and recommend changes that can help remove environmental risks to falling.  For more information on how in-home care can help seniors prevent falls and maintain their independence, contact your local Comfort Keepers® office.

References

Boyd, R. and Stevens, J. (March 12, 2009). Falls and fear of falling: Burden, beliefs and behaviours. Age and Aging, 1–6. DOI: 10.1093/ageing/afp053. Retrieved from http://ageing.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2009/05/06/ageing.afp053.full.

British Columbia Ministry of Health Planning, Office of the Provincial Health Officer. (January 2004). Prevention of falls and injuries among the elderly: A special report from the office of the provincial health officer. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/library/publications/year/2004/falls.pdf

Brown, J.S., Vittinghoff, E., Wyman, J.F., Stone, K.L., Nevitt, M.C., Ensrud, K.E., et al. (2000). Urinary incontinence: does it increase risk for falls and fractures? Study of Osteoporotic Fractures Research Group. J Am Geriatr Soc., Jul, 48(7), 721-725.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (September 20, 2013). Falls among older adults: An overview. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html

Owens, P.L., Russo, A., Spector, W., and Mutter, R. (October 2009). Statistical Brief #80: Emergency Department Visits for Injurious Falls among the Elderly, 2006. The Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project.

Retrieved from  http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb80.pdf.

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