A recent report in The New York Times says the potential for an elderly person to die from a slip and fall accident has increased in recent years. More people are living well into their 80s and 90s and many seniors are taking medications that can adversely affect balance.
While you can’t change your age, you can take steps to prevent falls.
How Many Seniors Die from Falls?
The New York Times report refers to research in the medical journal JAMA that found that for people over 75, the rate of mortality from falls more than doubled from 2000 to 2016. In real numbers, that’s 8,613 deaths from falls among Americans 75 years old or older in 2000 and 25,189 in 2016.
As people grow older, the rate at which they suffer fatal injuries in falls increases. Seniors 75 to 79 years old in 2016 died from fall accidents at a rate of 42.1 deaths per 100,000 people in the age group, while those who were 95 years old or older died at a rate of 590.7 fatalities per 100,000.
For all U.S. residents age 75 or older, the rate of accidental death in slip and fall accidents was 52 per 100,000 people in 2000 and 111 per 100,000 in 2016.
Elizabeth Burns, a health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and an author of the study, said that women are more likely to fall than men, but men are more likely to die as a result of a fall.
Burns said the most likely reason for more fatal falls among the elderly is that people are living longer with health conditions that they might have died from in the past. She also reiterated the impact of the elderly’s use of medications that add to the risk of falling.
How Do Falls Affect the Elderly?
As we age, we lose bone density and muscle mass. The loss of muscle makes us less steady on our feet and the loss of bone density makes bones more brittle and susceptible to breaking in a fall.
The CDC says more than one out of four older people – age 65 or older in CDC statistics – falls each year, though most don’t see a doctor. One out of five falls causes a serious injury, and falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults. Once an elderly adult has fallen, his or her chance of falling again doubles.
Falls can cause broken bones such as wrist, arm, ankle, and hip fractures. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
Almost all hip fractures (95%) happen in falls. The loss of mobility and independence as a result of a hip fracture is a common reason that older adults enter nursing homes. A 2017 study in the Journal of Internal Medicine showed that elderly hip fracture patients have an elevated risk of dying in the first year after the fracture that is three times what others their age face.
Head injuries suffered in falls can also be very serious, especially if the person is taking certain medicines such as blood thinners. These medications may cause profuse bleeding after a fall. A TBI suffered in a fall can also lead to disability or an untimely death.
Elderly people who fall often become afraid of falling again. This fear may cause them to become less active in general. But as they become less active, they become weaker, which increases their chances of falling.
Medication, the Elderly and Slip and Fall Accidents
Medications such as sedatives (Valium and Xanax), antidepressants (Prozac, Zoloft), and some over-the-counter medicines (Benadryl and Advil PM) can affect how steady a person is on his or her feet.
Doctors writing for the Medscape website say the fact that many elderly patients are prescribed multiple medications increases their risk of falls.
Sedatives/hypnotics are significantly associated with fall risk, and antidepressants cause the highest risk of falls among seniors. Other medications associated with an increased fall risk include diuretics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and antihypertensives.
Other factors associated with greater risk of falls and injury in seniors include:
- Previous fractures (weakened bones)
- Vitamin D deficiency (anemia, neuropathy)
- Impaired vision/hearing
- Recent hospital discharge
- Poor sleep/obstructive sleep apnea
- Urinary incontinence (i.e., hurrying to the bathroom)
- Foot pain or poor footwear.
How Can the Elderly Prevent Falls?
Doctors recommend that seniors who are able do regular exercise to strengthen their core and improve balance to reduce the risk of a fall. The CDC suggests tai chi, a low-impact, slow-movement Chinese martial arts exercise that increases flexibility and balance and reduces stress and anxiety. It’s easy to find tai chi groups in the New York area.
You can also protect yourself or a loved one by checking your home for trip, slip and fall hazards and correcting them, such as:
- Broken or uneven steps
- High thresholds
- Throw rugs
- Extension cords
- Poor lighting, including the lack of nightlights
- Lack of grab bars in the bathroom or railings on both sides of stairs.
Medscape says most falls among the elderly occur in the bathroom, followed by the bedroom, kitchen and living room. Problems are often caused by the transition between carpets and rugs or bare floors and rugs or carpet.
Seniors are also at risk of tripping and falling when they hurry, whether to go to the bathroom or to answer the doorbell or the phone.
Your doctor or healthcare provider can evaluate your risk for falling and recommend specific things you should do.
In nursing homes and hospitals, staff should follow fall prevention protocols for residents and patients at risk of falling due to medical issues. Nursing home residents and hospital patients face a secondary risk of falls in institutional settings due to wet floors, clutter, dangling tubing, and bedside equipment.
As New York slip and fall accident lawyers, we at David Resnick & Associates, P.C., frequently provide legal representation to people who have been injured in falls as well as families who have lost loved ones due to fall accidents. Falls often happen because a property owner has failed to deal with a hazard on their premises. While an elderly person is more likely to die from a slip and fall accident, we know from experience that slip and fall injuries and death happen to people of all ages.
No matter your age, you can benefit from understanding fall accidents and the strategies for preventing them.