Unintentional Falls Highest in Seniors over Age 85
Alarming statistics recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the rate of deaths from unintentional falls in seniors has risen by 31% from 2007-2016 and the highest rate was for seniors over the age of 85.
Unintentional Injuries 7th Cause of Death in Seniors Age 65 and Older
In 2016, a total of 29,668 U.S. residents aged 65 or more years died as the result of a fall, compared with 18,334 deaths in 2007. Deaths from unintentional injuries are the 7th cause of death among seniors age 65 and older. These statistics also included residents of nursing care and other senior residential facilities, but did not give a separate statistic for the numbers who died from falls inside residential facilities. Other research has shown that seniors who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have a very high rate of falls and the dementia is often not recorded on the death report where the cause of death is only listed as from a fall.
Some Falls are from Strokes or Heart Attacks
There is a scenario where a stroke or heart attack was the cause of the fall, even if it was not the cause of death. The injuries from the fall caused the death, but there is a possibility that they lost consciousness and then fell. However, this information could only be obtained if autopsies had been performed on them.
Intervention by Healthcare Providers
- Ask seniors if they fall and how often.
- Ask them if they feel unsteady when standing or walking.
- Ask them if they worry about falling.
- Check them for gait and balance problems.
- Check if they have vision problems. When was the last time they had a proper eye examination? Do they wear eyeglasses? Bifocal eye glasses are notorious for causing vision problems when walking downstairs. Recommend that they wear regular eye glasses when walking downstairs.
- Do they suffer from hearing loss? Do they wear a hearing aid?
- See if they suffer from osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia or Parkinson’s disease.
- Check if they have a Vitamin D deficiency. The CDC recommends supplementing Vitamin D for seniors who test low for it, as Vitamin D has been associated with fewer falls.
- Check if they have ever had cancer, a stroke or heart attack.
- Ask if they have had any operations, Were they under general or local anesthesia?
- Check if they have ever had any ear problems, especially inner ear problems that can lead to a loss of balance.
- Have they ever suffered from seizures or epilepsy?
- Do they suffer from headaches, migraine? Sometimes an aura that comes before a migraine sets in is blinding with all kinds of zig zag lines that make seeing difficult.
- Ask them if they suffer from glaucoma.
- Do they have allergies to stings of bees, wasps?
- Do they suffer from painful muscle cramps and spasms in their legs that can come on them without any warning?
- Do they suffer from low blood pressure, which can lead to fainting?
- Ask if they get enough physical exercise or if they are more sedentary.
- Check if they suffer from diabetes.
- Check if they are incontinent.
- Ask them if they drink alcoholic beverages and if they admit to a drinking problem, try to send them to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
- Ask them what medications they are taking and check the dosages, especially if falling, dizziness or losing balance can be a side effect to their drugs.
- Send them for balance exercises and physical therapy to strengthen their leg muscles. Studies have shown that seniors who attend special exercise and physical therapy programs have a 23-54% lower chance of falling.
Many more tips for effective interventions by family members and caregivers for preventing falls in seniors can be found in our blog post of March 26, 2018.
More effort has to be put on preventing falls in the elderly, especially getting them into programs for balance exercises and physical therapy, as this has been shown to lower their chances of falling.