We all know that aging increases the risk of heart disease, brittle bones, and poor eyesight. But what isn’t quite so obvious is the increased incidence of falls in the elderly.
While falling over as a child or young adult often has very few negative impacts, the same can’t be said for falls in older age. As you get older, you can begin to experience a decline in your physical health.
Your balance and coordination decline, your muscles get weaker, and your stability and flexibility are reduced. Combined with a reduction in vision, all of these physical changes can be a recipe for disaster.
The Impacts of Falls in the Elderly
Sadly, falls affect millions of older adults across the world every year. Data from the National Council on Aging shows that a quarter of seniors above the age of 65 suffer a nasty fall every year. Sadly, thousands of these falls result in injuries and even fatalities.
Keeping these statistics in mind, it’s no wonder that fall prevention in the elderly is at the forefront of every healthcare worker’s mind. It’s also a key priority for caregivers and those who have elderly relatives in their families.
Even if an older adult doesn’t result in a physical injury after falling over, it can cause long-lasting emotional trauma that knocks their confidence. This can have a knock-on effect on the individual’s quality of life.
Why Do Older Adults Fall?
The most common causes of falls in the senior population include:
- Impaired vision – reduced vision can be caused by a number of age-related eye health conditions, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Poor eyesight can prevent older adults from being able to spot obstacles, causing them to take a tumble.
- Fatigue – tiredness can be caused by difficulty sleeping and it increases the risk of falls.
- Weakness in the muscles – age-associated skeletal muscle loss can instability in the hips, knees, and ankles, which can decrease balance.
- Clutter – when objects are left on the floor, cables are loose, and carpets are pulled, seniors can easily trip over and get injured.
- Health conditions – chronic health problems, like arthritis, osteoporosis, and dementia can reduce balance, coordination, and vision, making it harder for older adults to stay on their feet.
- Surgeries – the post-operative period can be painful, uncomfortable, and restrictive, which can increase safety risks in the elderly.
What Are the Consequences of Falls in the Elderly?
Falls in the elderly can result in a number of serious injuries that have the potential to cause long-term complications on the physical and mental health of seniors.
The seriousness of a fall depends on how the accident occurs and how the person lands. Falling from a great height poses a higher risk of injury for obvious reasons. If the senior falls down the stairs, they might break a bone or hit their head.
The most common fall-associated injuries are fractures and sprains but serious falls can result in traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) that can impact the individual’s life for years to come. In some cases, falls can result in fatalities.
Even injuries that don’t result in fatal injuries can cause an elderly person to lose the independence that they once loved. Sadly, data shows that once a senior falls over, their risk of falling again in the future increases. This is partly why an older adult may need to live in a care home after a serious injury for extra support and assistance.
Why Can Falls Result in Psychological Trauma?
It’s not just the physical injuries that can be detrimental after a fall. Even if an older adult recovers from a fall-related injury, they can still be left with the fear of falling again in the future. Their confidence can get knocked down so much that they stop doing the things that they once loved.
Often, seniors significantly reduce their activity levels after taking a fall and this only makes the risk of future falls even higher. When they aren’t physically active, their balance, strength, and mobility decrease.
Because the senior is less able to move around freely like they once were, it can cause them to feel isolated and upset. They can feel vulnerable and as though like they no longer have their independence, resulting in long-term psychological trauma.
A fall and its associated injuries can cause a senior to retreat from social activities and spend more time sitting alone at home. As a result, the risk of depression, dementia, and delirium increases.