Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among persons aged 65 years and older, and the age-adjusted rate of deaths from falls is increasing. The rate of deaths from falls among persons aged 65 years and older increased 31% from 2007 to 2016, increasing in 30 states and the District of Columbia, and among men and women. The study last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also found, not surprisingly, that the risk of dying from a fall increases greatly with age. Among Americans aged 65 to 74, there were 15.6 deaths for every 100,000 people in 2016. That rate jumped to 61.4 deaths per 100,000 for people between the ages of 75 and 84, and it soared to 247.9 per 100,000 for people aged 85 and older.
The CDC researchers did not investigate the reasons fatal falls have increased among older Americans, but they point to several possible factors: reduced physical activity; people living longer with chronic diseases (which can make them more vulnerable to falls); increased use of prescription medications (which can slow down thinking and reaction time); and age-related changes in gait and balance.
The researchers recommend that physicians assess how much their older patients are at risk of falling, and then help patients address any risk factors that are modifiable — by changing the patient’s medications, for example, or encouraging the patient to engage in specific physical activities to improve gait, strength and balance.
Falls Are Serious and Costly
One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury
Each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.
Over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.
Each year at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures.
More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling, usually by falling sideways.
Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
In 2015, the total medical costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.
Outcomes of falls range from the minor cuts and bruises that anyone could expect to the worst possible results—disability and death. Overall, unfortunately, because of pre-existing health issues, lower bone and muscle strength, and other factors, falls among the elderly tend to have worse outcomes than among the general population. This leads to substantial costs both to the families of fall victims and to society at large.
Earlier this year, the United States Preventive Services Task Force reported that regular exercise was the most effective action older people could take to reduce their risk of falls.
Physical activity is an important part of healthy aging. Try this Go4Life workout video to help you fit exercise and physical activity into your daily life. In this video, Go4Life fitness instructor Sandy Magrath leads older adults through a workout featuring a warm up, strength, flexibility and balance exercises, and a cool down.
Equipment needed: a stable chair, hand weights or evenly weighted objects, and a towel.
The Go4Life Campaign from the National Institute on Aging focuses on encouraging older adults to make exercise and physical activity a part of their daily life. Use the Go4Life Everyday Exercises to practice the four types of exercise that are important for older adults: strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance.
We are in the aging in place business because we want to help people continue to remain their homes for as long as they desire – essentially the rest of their lives. Why do people get so attached to their homes that they literally do not want to leave them? Many reasons actually, notwithstanding the cost and disruption of moving into a retirement facility.
When people looked for and found the home they are in now, it took a tremendous amount of searching, comparison shopping, and an emotional commitment, as well as a financial one. They had to give up the home or apartment they had previously – one that may have had some very good memories for them and one that they maybe liked also – to move into their new home.
Their former home could have had some shortcomings in terms of layout, floor plan, size, location, or maintenance and repair concerns. It had served their needs for however long they had lived there, but now they were acquiring something else.
What they got and moved into – their current and “forever” home – was not a “house” or a “unit.” Those are real estate and construction industry terms. They are impersonal and cannot reflect the value that someone’s living environment has for them. “Home” is the correct word. People can get quite excited about remaining in their home long-term. Not so much about a house.
So, people want to remain where they are because they have been paying down their mortgage for a number of years (maybe it’s totally mortgage-free). They possess a lifetime of accumulated memories – from this home and all of their previous homes along the way, including the ones of their childhood. Usually, those memories are reinforced with mementos and keepsakes to remind them of their life experiences.
Most people have acquired so much “stuff” as they have gone through life, that the thoughts of going through it and sorting it – deciding what to keep and what to toss or donate (if anything) – become such a daunting challenge that it is not seriously attempted.
People find that financially it is very difficult to replace what they have now also – in terms of size, layout, monthly payments (if any), neighborhood, features, and other attributes. Add to that the thought of packing up everything and moving someplace else and starting the settling-in process all over, and it’s easy to see why people want to stay put.
Then, we come along – knowing how committed people are to remaining in their current homes – and simply help them evaluate how well their home meets their needs, what can be done to enhance their living experience, help them arrive at a sensible budget for undertaking some improvements that will allow them to live better in the home, and get started on the work.
We should consider it an honor to help people retain their independence and achieve their objective of remaining in their homes.
Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a highly regarded, much in demand, and widely recognized Certified Aging In Place Specialist-Master Instructor, Universal Design Master-Instructor, aging in place thought-leader, and senior safety consultant throughout North America and beyond. His students have come from nearly every state, many areas of Canada, and several other nations around the world to attend his classroom sessions and his online webinars, to subscribe to his blog posts, and to engage his coaching. Visit: https://www.stevehoffacker.com
Preventing falls is one of the biggest concerns that family caregivers face. Falls have a lot of consequences for older adults. For one, there is the very real risk of falls leading to severe injury and even death, especially if the senior has no resources to get help in their time of need. Potential issues can range from broken bones to even brain injuries. Even if older adults are unharmed by their falls, fear of future injury can lead to changes in lifestyle and inability to enjoy activities they once did. Here are some key ways to start preventing falls:
1. Keep the home clear. One of the biggest things that lead to falls is basic clutter, especially since it’s easy to forget that item is in place. If regular cleaning is too much for a senior to do, consider either paying a visit on a regular basis to check the home or even hiring a professional for some basic cleaning. Certain home fixtures like loose carpet and rugs also present an added risk.
2. Modify the bathroom. The combination of slippery floors and hard surfaces mean a fall in a bathroom can do some serious damage. Something as simple as installing a grab bar or toilet safety frame can cut down on risk significantly. In addition, there is such a thing as slip-resistant flooring if you are planning a remodel.
3. Have a discussion with your loved one’s doctor. This may be a surprising method of fall prevention, but in some cases, certain medications can lead to dizziness or light-headedness. The doctor may be able to recommend alternatives or give your aging family member advice on when to take certain medications to avoid falling.
4. Provide proper lighting. Along with cluttering, one of the major issues that makes a home unsafe is fall hazards obscured in darkness, especially at night. Good things to do on top of buying more powerful bulbs for seniors, are making sure that you give extra lighting in certain areas. This can include bathrooms, hallways and cooking area. Even a night light in the bedroom can go a long way.
5. Use some added support. In some cases, walking aids and other similar items can do a lot to lower the risk of falling, but there’s a variety of new technology and tools that help deal with these various issues. One interesting example is a wearable airbag worn like a belt to help prevent falls. If this sounds like a bit much, you may be better served just looking into something like a medical alert system. Getting medical help quickly can keep falls from becoming a major health issue.
Think of this as a basic guide for helping your aging loved ones prevent falls. Every home and environment is different, and every senior has a different health profile that affects their chances of falling. The best thing you can do is be prepared. This means not only using all the above tips, but also looking into other resources to stay on top of other advances in technology and practices behind fall prevention.
if you are concerned, it may be a good idea to have a trained professional to do a comprehensive home safety assessment. Look for a certified Senior Home Safety Specialist™, Occupational Therapist or Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) in your area.
The holidays are here! For many people, seniors included, this means family gatherings, more shopping expeditions, and possibly a bit of travel.
Here are a few holiday safety tips for seniors to make this a safe and healthy end of 2018.
Remember to make sure you have any necessary medication (and even a bit extra) before the festive season starts. The last thing you want to deal with is running out on Christmas Day when all the pharmacies are closed. Make sure you pack all your medication if you are going away – preferably keep everything in its original containers, especially if you are going overseas.
Don’t be tempted to climb up onto ladders and chairs to put up decorations, especially if you are at home on your own. Nasty accidents have happened this way.
Crowded shopping centers can be both overwhelming and dangerous if you are slightly less steady on your feet. Give a relative a shopping list, or go to the shops the minute they open and before the crowds arrive.
Do make plans for the festive season in advance, especially if you are on your own. Loneliness and depression can be very real problems over the holiday time. Also be aware that large family gatherings can be noisy and confusing, so try to limit the time you are exposed to them if you find it overwhelming.
If you are in someone else’s house, take care not to trip over slippery rugs, or fall over kids’ toys. Be very aware of your changed surroundings, especially when you are in rooms with tiled surfaces, such as kitchens and bathrooms. Also limit your alcohol intake as a glass or two too many can make you accident-prone.
Watch what you eat, especially if you have a condition such as diabetes. There could be hidden carbohydrates in unfamiliar foods. If you have digestive disorders of any kind, you will ultimately be happy if you avoid the temptation of festive fare in excess.
If you are driving to a holiday destination, try and choose a travelling time that doesn’t fall in peak times such as long weekends or the day schools break up. Use the fact that you are not tied to a job or school terms to your advantage.
Rather than spending the day on your own, invite a friend/neighbor or two over. Divide the cooking between you. There is no need for anyone to be miserable on any of these holidays.