For seniors to live a full and natural life, it is crucial that they prevent falls and avoid accidents by making the home as safe as possible. It is important to be aware that falls, fires and car accidents are the three leading causes of accidental injury and death among seniors. The good news is that most of these accidents are easily preventable through awareness of safety measures, or through simple home improvements that make little or no impact on quality of life.
Each year more than one third of adults 65 and older suffer a serious fall. What makes this especially sobering is the fact that falls and fall-related injuries are a leading cause of death in older people—for seniors 85 and older, it's estimated that one in five falls results in death. According to research conducted by the Public Health Agency of Canada, 20 percent of injury-related deaths among seniors can be traced back to a fall.
In 2008, about 1.8 million seniors in the United States alone were treated in emergency departments for nonfatal injuries from falls, and more than 433,000 of these patients were hospitalized. Many of those who fall develop a fear of falling—even if they are not injured. This fear alone can cause seniors to modify their gait, limit their mobility and reduce their physical fitness—thereby actually increasing their risk of falling.
Until recently, most falls have been blamed on a single cause precipitated by either a medical event or an "accident" related to the environment. Today, researchers know that falls are rarely the result of an isolated event. Rather, falls are complex events caused by the interaction of both internal and external factors.
Most falls represent the end result of a series of independent and often small risks. Individually, such risks pose no harm. Young people avoid many daily mishaps so naturally that they never even realize it. Eventually however, age, disability or compromised health can make it difficult to deal with even the simplest environmental risks. Often, a fall is ready to happen long before the victim encounters the event. So it is important to recognize and correct risky fall factors—both physiological and environmental and break the chain of risk before a fall occurs.
A number of physiological and medical factors play a role in causing falls. Understanding them can help you reduce the risks they pose. Here are a few major ones.
The environment (either indoors or outdoors) plays a major role in exposing seniors to falls. Falls in the bedroom, bathroom and dining areas are the most common, reflecting the amount of time spent in those areas. Relocation—such as moving between a home and a nursing facility, hospital or even a relative's home—can greatly increase the risk of falls, particularly by frail seniors. Lack of familiarity with floor surfaces and distance is only aggravated by a lack of expected visual clues for depth perception. Within these areas, here are some major items to consider and things you can do to limit the risk these environmental factors play.
While specific internal and external factors seldom cause falls all by themselves, the management, reduction or elimination of each risk will help prevent these factors from overlapping and causing a fall. Research results published in the British Medical Journal in January 2008 suggest that falls can be reduced by 50 percent when an individual's risks of falling are assessed and action taken to reduce them. Here are just a few ways you can reduce the risk of falling.
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