According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year one in three adults age 65 and older suffers a fall. Among those in that age group, falls are the leading cause of injury death, and are the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma.
The chances of falling and of being seriously injured in a fall increase with age, with the CDC reporting in 2009 that the rate of fall injuries for adults 85 years and older was almost four times that for adults aged 65 to 74.
"Falls can lead to pelvic, hip and spine fractures, fractures of the extremities, and even traumatic brain injury that could lead to death. It's important to prevent falls in the elderly, who are more prone to falls than the larger population," said Christi Keller, a registered nurse and trauma services injury prevention coordinator for Trinity Health.
Katina Tengesdal/MDN - - Christi Keller, registered nurse and trauma services injury prevention coordinator for Trinity Health, spoke about the importance of preventing falls.
Katina Tengesdal/MDN - - Christi Keller, registered nurse and trauma services injury prevention coordinator for Trinity Health, demonstrates checking out a walkway for uneven surfaces. Awareness of uneven surfaces could help people prevent damaging falls.
People can take steps to prevent both indoor and outdoor falls.
"We encourage people to exercise regularly, because exercise improves balance and coordination as well as strengthens muscles," Keller said. "We also like to encourage people to review their medications with their doctor, to determine if they are taking the proper dosages and that there are no interactions between medications that could cause dizziness."
"People should also have a yearly eye exam to make sure their depth perception is still accurate," she added. "And they should take steps to make sure their home environment is safer to reduce fall risks and hazards."
In the home, she said, people should have adequate lighting at all times and can use night lights or a lamp next to the bed that can be switched on right away. Also, they should use non-skid rugs, tuck away electrical cords and leave adequate space around furniture to accommodate walkers or wheelchairs. People can also install grab bars in bathrooms around toilets and showers for extra stability, and ensure that railings are installed next to staircases.
Outside the house, walkways and sidewalks should be cleared of snow and ice, and homeowners should sprinkle de-icers such as sand or salt. When walking outside, people should wear boots with non-skid soles and take short, careful steps.
"Outside, another thing you can do is to make sure that uneven surfaces are posted and labeled," Keller said. "If an elderly person is accompanied by a caregiver, we'd like to have the caregiver walk through the pathway first before they take the person out, to check for uneven or slippery surfaces."
Keller said that while Trinity Health staff have seen falls because of weather, falls in the elderly also occur during the summer months, making fall prevention an important thing to consider year-round.
"Those who are older can have a longer healing time because of their past medical history, and because they may not absorb or metabolize medications like they used to," Keller said. "The healing time can depend on how active a person is, too, for people that are less active it could take longer."
"The incidence of falls is increasing as people age, and as more people want to continue to be active and be out and about," she said. "It's important to take prevention steps."