Every night I go through the same routine. I get myself ready for bed then head to the light switch and try to memorize a clear path to the bed before I turn the light off. I would say I make it to the bed without tripping and falling about 20% of the time. Why I go through this every night is beyond me. One would think I’d learn my lesson. Perhaps it’s because by the time I get to the light switch it’s too late to turn on the flashlight by my bed. Or, it could be that I enjoy the challenge the dark obstacle course offers. Bah who am I kidding it’s totally because i’m too lazy to walk the few extra steps to turn on a flashlight. Whatever the reason trips and falls are dangerous, especially as we get older.
Why are falls more dangerous the older you get?
As we age our bodies don’t recover from injuries as well as they did when we were 5 or even 20. Complications that come with age like osteoporosis can make falls more devastating than they would normally be. “Falling, particularly falling repeatedly, increases the risk of injury, hospitalization, and death, particularly in older people who are frail and have pre existing disease comorbidities (eg, osteoporosis) and deficits in activities of daily living (eg, incontinence). Longer-term complications can include decreased physical function, fear of falling, and institutionalization. Falls reportedly contribute to > 40% of nursing home admissions.
Over 50% of falls among older people result in an injury. Although most injuries are not serious (eg, contusions, abrasions), fall-related injuries account for about 5% of hospitalizations in patients ≥ 65. About 5% of falls result in fractures of the humerus, wrist, or pelvis. About 2% of falls result in a hip fracture. Other serious injuries (eg, head and internal injuries, lacerations) occur in about 10% of falls. Some fall-related injuries are fatal. About 5% of older people with hip fractures die while hospitalized. Overall mortality in the 12 months after a hip fracture ranges from 18 to 33%.
About half of older people who fall cannot get up without help. Remaining on the floor for > 2 hours after a fall increases risk of dehydration, pressure ulcers, rhabdomyolysis, hypothermia, and pneumonia.
Function and quality of life may deteriorate drastically after a fall; at least 50% of older people who were ambulatory before fracturing a hip do not recover their previous level of mobility. After falling, older people may fear falling again, so mobility is sometimes reduced because confidence is lost. Some people may even avoid certain activities (eg, shopping, cleaning) because of this fear. Decreased activity can increase joint stiffness and weakness, further reducing mobility.” – Laurence Z. Rubenstein so what causes these falls?
Things that could cause falls and ways to fix them
Normal everyday objects can become death traps. Rugs, ottomans, cords, even small children can be trip hazards.
Fix- Make sure objects are off the floor and paths are cleared to commonly visited areas. Rugs should be removed when possible. If not possible, they should be tapped around the edges to to floor to prevent tripping. Children should not run around when an elderly person is walking because they may bump into or hinder their steps.
Our vision plays a huge part in balance. If you don’t believe me try closing your eyes and balancing on one foot. Now try hopping on that foot with your eyes still closed. Your brain takes into account what you see to accurately create something called a biofeedback loop. As people age many of them develop visual problems like cataracts or macular degeneration, just to name a few. Also, as we age the muscles in our eyes adjust to lighting changes with greater difficulty.
Fix- Insure rooms have adequate lighting. Smart technology will allow you to turn lights on and off from your phone. Good lighting doesn’t help much if you have other vision problems which brings me to my next solution: Get an eye exam. Believe it or not many eye problems can be solved by a good obstetrician.
Medications have a lot of side effects. Frequently, those side effects include dizziness.
Fix- Talk with your doctor and see if there are any other medications that could be a viable alternative. Avoid standing or climbing on objects to reach items high on shelves. Rearrange your kitchen so that all items in it are within reachable limits.
Strength is not something given it’s earned. It is also lost very easily. When I was in the hospital I was told for every day you spend in the hospital it will take you a week to recover that strength back (some say 3–4 days recovery for each day in the hospital).
Fix- Physical therapy and exercise can strengthen muscles and balance. You can also use assistive devices to compensate for lack of muscle.
Each fall is different and has its own reasons behind it. These are just the most common causes we see. Sometimes a fall can not be prevented despite or best efforts. Thats when its important to know how to fall properly.
How to fall properly
Foreword fall: Fall with hands and palms flat down and land on forearms
Backward fall: Bend knees and squat, hands and palms down and flat, land on forearms. Tuck the neck and chin in to protect head.
Sideways fall: hands and palms flat down, land on forearm.