Many people are at a stage in their lives that they have now begun to watch their parents’ age, and while this process of change is sometimes gradual, the results can be worrying. One of the most common issues that occur in parallel to aging is that of persons being at a greater risk for falling and thus hurting themselves.
No matter if that person is your grandparent, friend, or just a neighbor, it can be saddening to see an elderly adult suffer from the consequences of a fall. Being that the American population is quickly shifting into increasingly high rates of those persons now deemed elderly, the chances of witnessing an accident are growing.
Having the understanding and ability of why and how falling affects the lives of senior citizens can help promote broader instances of compassion and care for the elderly.
What Categorizes as a Fall?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) a fall may be defined as an occurrence that results in an individual accidentally coming in contact with the ground or other stationary object and thus incurs bodily harm. Fall related injuries can be non-fatal, or fatal. Though the latter is less common, there are an estimated 684, 000 people who die from falls around the world each year, and the second leading cause for unintentional deaths.
The level of seriousness of a fall is dependent on the type of accident and the related injury. The way in which a person falls tends to dictate the type of injury and can vary from anything as innocent as a bruise or scrapes, to more serious representations of broken hips or traumatic brain injuries.
Annually, over 37 million falls take place to such a severity that medical attention is required. Individuals that may be placed in the category of disability due to falls and their injuries are at greater risk for the aftereffects of necessitated long-term care, and even institutionalization. More than approximately one in four people who are over the age of 65 fall each year, and it is this gradual physical change associated with age that puts adults over this age at such increased risk— nearly 25% more.
Interestingly, anyone who has fallen once is, after that point, at double the risk for a second circumstance. One out of every five falls causes serious injuries such as broken bones or head injuries.
Who is At Risk?
Despite astounding technological advancements in medical care for doctors and nurses, there will likely always be a risk for elderly people falling. There is no discrimination against those individuals of a certain age who are at greater risk for falls. Gender, age, and health, while they do play factors, are not the deciding means by which one can predict those persons who may be at greater risk. Considering the unpredictability of a fall related injury, it is wise to become informed about how various factors play into the level of risk.
Age is obviously the more common and consistent factor. In the United States alone, around 25% of people who fall will result in various leveled concerns of injury. These increased risks are often due to the related signs of aging that contribute to reduced physical strength and ability, sensory perception, and even cognition. When combined with unfamiliar environments and places which are not conducive to the mobility of aging or disabled persons those risks go up.
As with age, there is no discrimination as to how the various genders are subject to the risks and consequences of a fall. Every country and community in the world have these factors. While men are more likely to suffer a fatal fall and women often have more non-fatal falls, both are at the previously mentioned risks.
The greater risk for fatalities in males is possibly related to these types of activities and behaviors that are more common habits and pursuits of males that connect to hobbies and occupations. There are a variety of factors which contribute to the higher percentage of accidents in males:
- Occupations that take place at greater heights and more hazardous working conditions like working on ladders
- Alcohol and substance abuse
- Unsafe environments
5 Reasons Why Falls are Detrimental to Senior Citizens
Prolonged Healing Time
Healing from any injury takes time, but as we age, our body’s ability to heal themselves becomes less efficacious and takes much longer. There are many reasons for this such as lack of adequate sleep, compounding effects of long term substance abuse and poor nutrition, inadequate levels of muscle mass due to sedentary lifestyles etc.
Being that the majority of senior citizens will be subject to the collective of such challenges, it makes sense that an added injury to a fall (severe or otherwise) would put added stress on the body. As a body reverts what resources and attention it has to promote healing due to major procedures like surgery, an accident can divert those resources and impede healing and even upkeep on an otherwise healthy system. When factoring in side effects of medication, weakness and pain all from either the surgery or fall, it can become quite the task for the body to heal itself.
On top of the lengths of time that can be complicated, falling after surgery also poses serious risk for rupturing stitches, sutures, implants, or any other manner of medical care. These added stress on the body compound daily, not only in physical instances, but economic, relational, and emotional.
No one likes being sick, and pain due to injury— chronic or otherwise— can be more than an inconvenience, it can add emotional strain to an already taxed disposition. Stress, anxiety about healing time or money can lead to sadness and depression. Even isolation can result.
A fall in a senior’s life can cause such an added amount of worry about further injury that it can lead to things like being afraid to walk (even if it is prescribed for recovery) and participating in social events (that are emotionally stabilizing), to not feeling safe to bathe.
Sadness and depression due to a series of medical complications is understandable, but can be concerning if compounding in a way that keeps the patient from putting in the necessary efforts to participate consistently in their own recovery.
Advanced age already comes with compounding complications to cognition with examples like memory loss, Dementia, and Alzheimer’s, but injuries sustained from an accident can worsen those symptoms or cause a new set of problems entirely. Anyone that falls has the natural instinct to catch themselves to brace vital body parts from great harm, but the elderly are at a severe disadvantage in their motor abilities to do so.
Reaction times are greatly lessened, or limbs and hands may already be gripping objects that are supposed to serve as a support for balance. When such factors are a reality in a person’s daily life, even a curb or table corner in a friend’s home can become a dangerous object.
The lack of ability to catch oneself properly and effectively in a fall creates an increased risk for head injuries. When these types of serious injury are combined with the already greater risks for things like stroke and heart attacks, recovery strain, and cognitive abilities, the whole patient’s life can quickly take a turn for the worse.
There is no other way to say this: senior citizens who suffer a fall are at greater risk and odds of becoming permanently limited or entirely disabled in their mobility and cognition. What would be otherwise unserious injuries, can create difficulties in the ability for patients to heal (as was already mentioned) but complication also puts those persons in greater danger of permanent bodily complications. The loss of even basic functionality like legs, feet, or limbs begins to diminish the variety of activities that allow for independence and health.
The number of complications already mentioned are concerning in and of themselves, but when considered with all the previously mentioned factors and the consequences thereof, future falls are hugely concerning. When considering that a first event is already very likely to occur in persons over 65, the fact that an individual’s chances increase is disconcerting— especially when remembering that a first fall increases the chance by a factor of 50%.
The more time that passes, the number of medical complications that ensue, and the strain on the body to heal all pours back into the anxiety that can come from the increased risk.
No matter the country, environment, or demographic marker, there are no discriminating factors towards those elderly persons at risk for a fall. When considering the numerous health complications that already exist as a result of aging, the added strain that can be put on a weakened body poses a number of health concerns.
For those persons who suffer a fall, the greater chance for prolonged healing times, emotional stressors, head injuries, and a higher chance of permanent disability should cause anyone to be wary. Regardless of the person or community, added care should be taken to help mitigate and lessen the risks associated with falling by instituting fall prevention measures.