For seniors living at home the biggest risk they face in looking to their futures is the risk of falling. Falls in the over 65 age group are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries. One in three adults over the age of 65 fall each year. Most falls occur within the home or in close proximity.
Why is this information important? Most seniors want to remain independent and at home for as long as possible and preferably be able to live there until their deaths. In 2013 the medical cost of the falls among seniors was 34 billion dollars. If that piece of data doesn’t get your attention, in that same year, 25,500 older adults died as a result of a fall. Falls are the common reason for brain injuries and half of those die as a result. But brain injuries are only one factor of concern. Falls are the reason for most fractures among the senior population. The most common fractures are spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm and hand. All are debilitating for the senior living alone at home and threaten their desire to remain at home.
Ethnicity matters. White persons and especially women fall with greater frequency than African-American and Hispanics. Women fall more than men. However, men are at greater risk of dying from falls perhaps due to the nature of the fall, such as fall from a ladder or fall in performing a task of yard work or home repair.
Nonetheless, one fall puts us at greater risk of another and on top of that it makes us have an increased fear of falling. With that fear the tendency is to be more cautious, less active and physically active and to lose the mobility and flexibility to perform the usual tasks around the house to maintain more capability.
Fall risk increases with age as does length of stay in recovering. Those over the age of 75 years who experience a fall are more likely to be admitted to a long-term care facility for a year or more. Of all hip fractures, 95% are due to a fall. Each falls increases the risk of another. And time on the floor unable to get up also increases the tissue injury that occurred in the fall.
Falls are the biggest reason for seniors to have loss of function and often loss of independent living. In other words, falls are the biggest reason seniors cannot stay at home in their own house.
So, what is an independent senior to do?
Prevention is key and there are a lot of things to help make seniors safer than they used to be. There are also many devices to help keep seniors as independent as possible.
A home safety evaluation is the best way to get a non-biased look at safety issues. I will list some standard things to consider that I use in every home assessment. I recommend clear pathways free of clutter especially on the floor and rugs that don’t curl, slip or cause an unlevel step. I encourage regular eye exams to insure the proper eye wear and not ambulating with bifocals that cause depth misperception. Grab bars in key bathroom locations next to the tub, shower and toilet are a must as bathrooms are a risky place for wet and soapy feet. I encourage railings on both sides of stairways and especially stairs to the outside. I recommend night-lights or sensor lights for increased safety in nighttime trips to the bathroom. I also recommend the senior have an alert system that they can initiate in the event of a fall not near the telephone.