Fatal falls have risen to the highest level ever, accounting for more than 25,000 deaths.
The rate has nearly tripled as America gets older.
In 2000 there were 8,600 fall deaths, but by 2016 that climbed to 25,190, and in 2017 that was up to 26,440.
That means the rate of fall deaths increased from 51 per 100,000 to 122 per 100,000.
The new study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association highlighted just how dangerous this can be.
Why is it going up? The study indicated several risk factors:
- Poor balance
- Most importantly, an aging population
Some medications interfere with blood pressure which can cause lightheadedness when people get up, causing falls.
As people get older, they often become more sedentary and do not work on their balance.
And then diabetes tends to damage nerve cells and pathways.
This seems to start in the feet for many, so people can’t maintain a solid standing base or don’t get the proper signals when the floor surface changes.
The study shows that nearly 30% of adults over 65 fell in 2014, in Europe they found that adults over the age of 75 were at the highest risk.
Another study presented in the same issue showed that many falls could be prevented if older citizens started doing home-based strength and balance programs.
After a patient had suffered from a fall, they were taught strength and balance exercises.
This dramatically reduced the number of subsequent falls as opposed to those who did not receive the information.
These types of programs ought to be expanded.
Especially in Florida, where falls have become the number one cause of death in the elderly (half were from people 85 and older).
As people get older, depth perception worsens, and reaction time slows, making the chances of a fall more likely.
Add to this, there is the problem with needing to go to the bathroom at night, and people don’t want to turn on the light, creating a unique danger.
They are more dangerous when you are older because bones are more brittle, and veins and arteries are thinner.
And many medications make blood clotting more difficult.
In falls that involve hip fractures, further complications happen because these injuries often require surgery which creates numerous complications.
An article in Medical Express summed up the problem:
“According to Chantal Cote, manager of rehabilitation services for inpatient rehab at Halifax Health, a majority of those deaths occur from complications following the fall and not the fall itself.
“According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, up to 20% of patients die in the first year following hip fractures, mostly due to pre-existing medical conditions. There is also a greater risk of dying for at least five years after a fall with injuries.
“If they fracture a hip, which is the most common injury, they will need hip surgery,” Cote said. “They may not be able to tolerate the anesthesia. They become mobility impaired, they lose their strength quickly and they are immobile, which puts them at more risk for pneumonia.”
Doing weight-bearing exercises, walking, yoga, and even Tai Chi can help.
Low impact movements all help.
While most people don’t think about it, walking is a one-legged balance exercise that helps a great deal to maintain our sense of equilibrium.
Friends and family members can help the elderly by making sure the paths in the house are free of clutter and footwear is non-slip.