July 7, 2016 by Renata J. Maslowski
A familiar scenario among seniors and children of elderly parents is about falls and their health consequences.
“The call came in on Sunday afternoon, just as we were having lunch. Mom was calling, hysterical, because she had to call for an ambulance to take Dad to the hospital. He had been on the ladder, trimming tree branches, and had fallen. When they retired, Mom and Dad were so excited about moving to Florida and walking along the beach, playing tennis and just enjoying life. Now the doctor was telling Mom that Dad had broken his hip, would need surgery, a stay in the hospital and follow up rehabilitation. All of us live at least an hour flight away from them, so it would be a scheduling nightmare for everyone. What are we going to do?”
The drastic increase in reported falls among the senior population the negative health outcomes from falls has drawn attention of public health experts to increase prevention efforts to reduce falls. Falls caused over half (55%) of all unintentional injury deaths among senior adults and the fall-related death rate among adults aged 85+ was almost 4 times higher than for seniors 75–84 and 16 times higher than among seniors aged 65–74.
While most falls do not end up fatal, they can change life drastically for seniors. The need for surgery and follow up physical therapy can mean months of lost time and significant pain. Falls can also have other negative health effects. Studies show that falls can result from declining health status. Falls have been associated with underlying urinary tract infections and side effects of medications, especially blood pressure and diabetic drugs(1). The causes of falls need to be discussed with aging parents to reduce risks and have a plan for when accidents happen.
It is always a good idea to discuss fall risks with a family physician(2). Whenever a senior is receiving a new medication, reviewing the side effects on the label is important. Often, when seniors fall, they end up lying for a long time before receiving assistance and this can add to the injury by increasing the risk of hypothermia, bleeding and consequences of head injuries. If the senior lives alone, consideration for a personal alarm device can add a sense of safety and reduce the time for medical help after a fall. To avoid social isolation, independent retirement communities such as Ingleside Homes, offer increased safety and oversight for seniors, and assistance through services like home healthcare aides.
There is also evidence that seniors with a history of falls can have an increase in motor vehicle accidents(3). The study found that seniors who had fallen were 40% more likely to experience a future motor vehicle accident. Since driving ability is so integral to independence for seniors, it is critical to prevent the common causes for fall and car accidents. Making adjustments in driving schedule, such as shifting to daytime driving and doing exercises geared to fall prevention work hand-in-hand to keep senior mobile and independent longer.
So what does this mean for Dad? A recent study by Yale University(4) suggests that older men benefit from physical exercise by reducing their risk of serious injuries from falls, and reduced fractures and hospitalizations. Women in the study did not show risk reductions from exercise. While more research is needed on exercise in older populations, being more activity has many health benefits. At least for men, these health benefits include reduction in serious fall risks.
Taking precautions, planning ahead for accidents, eating healthy and keeping active can all reduce the negative effects of falls. Long term considerations for living in a senior retirement community can reduce isolation and offer a measure of confidence for the whole family that Dad is safe.
1. Yousef Soliman, Richard Meyer and Neil Baum, Falls in the Elderly Secondary to Urinary Symptoms, Rev Urol. 2016;18(1):28-32 doi: 10.3909/riu0686.
2. Mark Jopling, Falls in older people, Nov. 10, 2015. www.gponline.com/falls-older-people/elderly-care/rehabilitation-falls/article/1372101
3. Kenneth A. Scott, Eli Rogers, Marian E. Betz, Lilian Hoffecker, Guohua Li and Carolyn DiGuiseppi, Associations Between Falls and Driving Outcomes in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis: A LongROAD Study. (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: March 2016)
4. Justin Caba, Exercise Can Reduce Older Men’s Risk For Serious Fall, But Not Women For Some Reason. Feb. 3, 2016. http://www.medicaldaily.com/older-men-can-lower-fall-risk-exercise-372070 Source: Gill T, Pahor M, Guralnik J, et al. The BMJ. 2016.