Living in a society where older adults can live to their full potential should be expected. However, falls remain a threat to the health and independence of the older adult population and can significantly limit their ability to remain self-sufficient.
According to the American Trauma Society, falls have become a public health crisis and are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among older adults. One out of every three adults age 65 and older falls each year. Of those, two out of three will fall again within six months. Of those reported, 20 to 30 percent will sustain moderate to severe injuries, which will prevent them from returning home or living alone again.
“Over 60 percent of the emergencies that the Farmington Hills Fire Department responds to are medical emergencies,” said Lieutenant Denny Hughes. “Our firefighter/paramedics respond to a fall-related incident of some type every week. Many of these incidents result in fractures or serious head injuries. And in most cases, falls can be prevented,” added Hughes.
As an experienced emergency/trauma nurse, Rhonda Thompson, RN, of Botsford Hospital, has encountered many traumatic injuries that are the direct result of a fall. The older adult population surpasses all other age groups for this type of injury. Hip fractures are seen routinely in emergency departments throughout the country. Also, a great number of patients end up with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and often do not have good outcomes.
“Injuries from falling lead to extended hospital stays, longer rehabilitation, permanent disabilities and even death; ultimately resulting in extreme health care expenses and a strain on medical facilities and families,” said Thompson.
Approximately half of falls occur at home, since this is where many older adults spend most of their time. Modification of the living environment can reduce the chances of falling at home. Some of the everyday situations that should be evaluated and possibly modified for fall prevention include:
Bathroom - Install grab bars and use non-slip mats. (Do not use towel racks as grab bars.) Toilets may need raised seats and installed grab bars.
Stairs – Install hand rails on both sides of the stairs. Install brighter lights and switches at both ends.
Clutter (books, clothes, newspapers, shoes, etc.) - Remove items from any areas where people walk.
Rugs – Remove them or use double-sided tape to secure them to the floor (edges and corners included.)
Reachable items – Keep the most used items at levels that are easily accessible.
Tell your doctor if you have fallen in the past, have difficulty walking or getting out of bed or chairs, difficulty maintaining balance while walking, or have been feeling weak or dizzy. The doctor will most likely want to do a fall risk assessment which should include having your vision checked, a review of medications, and a look at causative medical conditions, among other things.
Exercising regularly to maintain strength and balance is a good way to help prevent falls.
Good examples include routine walks and stretching. In the hotter and colder months, shopping malls make a good place to walk early in the morning before they get too busy. Always check with your health care provider before beginning any exercise programs, so that they can be tailored to your specific needs.
Staying active will help you maintain mobility and strength. With proven interventions, you can reduce the risk for falls and help older adults live better, longer, and safer lives.
Rhonda Thompson, RN, is an Injury Prevention Coordinator at Botsford Hospital’s Trauma Department in Farmington Hills. She may be reached at 248-888-2586 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lieutenant Denny Hughes is a fire and safety educator with the Farmington Hills Fire Department. He may be reached at 248-871-2823 or email@example.com.