Falls – Falls Can Kill You. Here’s How to Minimize the Risk
Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults. Every 19 minutes in this country, an older person dies from a fall
Every day, I scan the obituaries to see why or how people die. You might call it morbid fascination, but I attribute it to the combined influence of my age (77) and my profession (health reporting). Obituaries give me ideas for Personal Health columns like this one that might help others — and me — avoid a preventable ailment or accident and premature demise.
One of the most frequent causes of death listed for people my age, as well as some younger and many older folks, is “complications from a fall,” the explanation given for the death last month at 93 of Russell Baker, the much-loved Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist and columnist for The New York Times.
Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults. Every 19 minutes in this country, an older person dies from a fall.
To be sure, nearly everyone falls now and then, and some falls are unavoidable. But falling is not an inevitable consequence of aging. Most age-related falls are preventable once you know why they happen and take steps to minimize the risk for yourself, relatives and friends whose age or health status renders them especially vulnerable.
More than a quarter of individuals age 65 and older fall each year, and falling once doubles their chances of falling again, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A fall that may be run-of-the-mill for a young person (as in the lyric “Pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start all over again”) can be very dangerous for the elderly.
One fall in five among older adults results in a serious injury, and older people are less able to recover from the trauma physically and emotionally.
Although broken bones are usually regarded as the most common serious consequence of falls, even if no fracture occurs, a fall can result in irreversible harm to an elderly person’s health, social interactions and psychological well-being.
A frequent aftermath when older people fall is a heightened fear of falling, prompting them to limit their activities and cause further physical decline, depression and social isolation, which in turn can hasten death.
Many factors common among older people can increase the risk of falling: medical and orthopedic problems and the medications taken to treat them; physical changes that impair balance, gait and muscle strength; sensory declines in vision, hearing and awareness of body position; and pain that distorts body movements.