Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What Is the Leading Cause of Injury Death Among Seniors?

If you guessed falls, give yourself a gold star. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths among older adults. They are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma. And the problem isn’t getting better.

The rates of fall related deaths among older adults has risen significantly over the last decade. The increase is likely related to the fact that people are simply living longer. It is estimated that one third of adults 65 and older fall each year in the United States. About 25 percent of those who fall will suffer moderate to severe injuries such as bruises, hip fractures or head traumas. These injuries may be dangerous on their own. As importantly, however, they can limit mobility.

A hip fracture, for example, may heal promptly in a younger person. For a senior, however, the same injury may confine them to a wheelchair for years. Hip fractures are the most common type of fall-related fracture. The loss of mobility associated with a hip fracture can have serious consequences. Up to one in four adults who lived independently before their hip fracture, has to stay in a nursing home for at least a year after their injury. About one out of five hip fracture patients dies within a year of their injury.

Falls, however, are not an inevitable consequence of aging. Some hospitals and nursing homes treat falls as an unexpected event. Without adequate precautions, however, falls are not surprising. Each year a typical nursing home with 100 beds reports 100 to 200 falls. Good health care providers understand that falls are one of the greatest risks to senior citizens. Taking precautions to assess patients for fall risk and prevent falls, should be one of their highest priorities. When it isn’t, patients suffer.

Stores and businesses catering to the elderly also need to be aware of the risks. Simple things like clearing the snow outside a grocery store can make a dramatic difference to senior customers.

Here are some things that you can do to prevent dangerous falls for yourself and aging friends and relatives:

1. Be Aware of the Risk
Once you know that falls are common and dangerous, you can take steps to avoid them.

2. Exercise Regularly
Exercise programs like Tai Chi can increase strength and improve balance. Both are important to prevent falls.

3. Monitor Medications
Medication errors are a common cause of falls. Perhaps more common, though, are routine side effects of medications that were appropriately prescribed. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines periodically to reduce side effects and eliminate unnecessary medications.

4. Have Your Eyes Checked
You aren’t going to walk well if you aren’t seeing well. Get your eyes checked at least once a year to make sure you’re on track.

5. Improve Lighting
Getting more light in your living space will help you see the obstacles more clearly.

6. Get Rid of the Hazards
By now, you probably know the things you are likely to trip over. Get rid of them. The same is true for hospitals and nursing homes. If you know a patient will need to use the restroom during the night, there shoudn’t be cords or trays or blankets on the floor.

7. Use Assistive Devices
For some, unsteadiness may not be avoidable. Things like canes and walkers may be invaluable in these situations. Hospitals and nursing homes have other options like fall pads, alarms that alert staff that a patient is getting out of bed, or hip pads. All of these can be helpful to prevent injury.

One of the most important things seniors can do to stay healthy is to stay active. Avoiding falls is a key step in maintaining an active life.

The majority of the statistics for this article were obtained from a series of articles produced by the Centers for Disease Control. If you are interested in learning more, you can find the articles at www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/adultfalls.htm


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