Slip and fall accidents can cause severe damage for anyone, but they are particularly dangerous for the elderly. Seniors who suffer from falls can end up with fractures and other related trauma. A simple fall can result in devastating injuries, which can rob seniors of their independence and lead to long-term health problems. For some, these injuries may never really heal correctly, and cause life-altering health issues.
There are ways to prevent or decrease the risk of falls. Patients and caregivers can take certain safety precautions to decrease the occurrence of a devastating fall.
Slip and Fall Statistics in the United States
Falls can occur virtually anywhere, whether a patient lives at home or at a care facility. Falls are surprisingly common and have a huge impact on individuals, families, and the United States as a whole. Consider the following statistics:
- Roughly 20 percent of slip and fall accidents occur in nursing homes.
- Approximately 15,000 Americans over the age of 65 die annually because of slip and fall accidents.
- Over two million people will be treated in emergency rooms every year because of slip and fall accidents.
- Falls can cause serious bone injuries. Approximately one-third of seniors who suffers from a serious bone injury will die within one year of the accident.
- Direct medical costs for fall injuries cost roughly $34 billion annually, with hospital costs making up two-thirds of the associated costs.
- More than 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falling, and roughly 250,000 older Americans are hospitalized every year due to hip fractures.
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (“TBI”).
Common Situations that Cause Slips and Falls
Most falls occur as a result of a simple shift of body weight, which causes the individual to lose their balance. This can occur in virtually any situation, but falls are often the result of a trip or slip.
A slip occurs when there is too little friction between the shoes or feet and the walking surface. They can be the result of walking on water or other slippery substances.
A trip, on the other hand, results when the foot collides with an object. Trips often throw a person off balance as well. Any uneven surface is a tripping hazard, particularly if the deviation is more than one-eighth of an inch.
A Floor That Was Not Designed for Seniors
Uneven flooring is one of the most common causes of trips and falls. Care centers should be particularly mindful of their flooring choices to fit the needs of their senior residents. However, because each senior has different footwear or devices, finding the right flooring option can be extremely difficult. In fact, it is virtually impossible to choose a flooring option that will accommodate every shoe style or projected use for the floor. Assistive devices like walkers, canes, scooters, and wheelchairs also make choosing the right flooring difficult as well.
Falls that Occur in Bathrooms
The bathroom is the most likely location for a trip and fall or slip and fall incident. The nature of the activities in that room and the confined space and layout increase the likelihood for falls. Bathrooms that are designed for seniors, with grab handles, non-stick tiles, and other safety enhancements, can curb the occurrence of bathroom falls.
The Negative Consequences of a Fall
Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. Seniors often see more serious consequences after a fall because their ability to recover is dramatically decreased compared to a younger individual. Even a simple fall can have serious, life-threatening consequences, including brain injury, infection, and fractures.
Medical Complications After a Senior Fall Accident
Falls for seniors can result in:
- Broken bones or fractures
- Head injuries
- Prolonged injury/disability
- Back and hip fracture or problems
- Increased psychological fear of falling
Head injuries can be particularly troublesome for older Americans, especially if they are taking certain medications like blood thinners. If you have hit your head after a fall, see a doctor immediately.
Falls that Result in Becoming Bedridden
Falls are one of the direct causes of becoming bedridden in the elderly. Being bedridden in and of itself can also lead to other medical issues.
The most common medical issue associated with being bedridden is bedsores or pressure ulcers. If you stay in one place too long while in bed, there is decreased blood flow to the area on which you are resting. This decreased blood flow can, over time, cause the cells in that area of the skin to die. As a result, sores form. These sores can become easily infected and can become very deep if they are not addressed properly. They can also cause additional medical problems.
Since falls can lead to immobility, muscle atrophy can also be a serious problem following a fall. Muscle atrophy is a term that means the muscles are wasting away because of non-use. This occurs when physical injuries make it difficult or impossible to move certain parts of the body.
Muscle atrophy is a serious concern for seniors because the body cannot rebuild muscle as well as we age. Regaining mobility is difficult as well. Muscle atrophy could result in requiring the temporary or permanent use of a wheelchair.
Other Unforeseen Medical Complications
Falls can cause an array of medical problems as well—many of which require hospitalization. Even relatively minor cuts and fractures can result in long-term problems in the elderly. In addition, those who have experienced a fall may develop a fear of falling, which can alter their behavior and mental wellbeing.
Preventing Slips and Falls at Home and Beyond
Engaging in fall prevention is the most effective way to decrease the likelihood of a traumatic injury. Some of these fall prevention strategies are described below.
- See a doctor
Your first step toward fall prevention is to see a doctor. Your doctor will be able to tell you if you are at an increased risk of falls based on your medications, current health conditions, and whether you have fallen in the past. Certain medications may increase the risk of falls, particularly those that have side effects that include dizziness or lightheadedness. Certain sedatives and antidepressants may include these side effects.Other health conditions may also affect the likelihood of a fall, including eye and ear disorders. Pain, numbness, and shortness of breath while walking may also increase the risk of a fall. Your doctor will also likely evaluate your muscle strength, balance, and gait (walking style) to determine if you are at an increased risk of a fall.
- Keep moving
Continued physical activity can go a long way toward fall prevention. As long as you are cleared by your doctor, you should engage in activities like walking, water workouts, and tai chi (a gentle exercise that involves slow and graceful dance-like movement) to increase balance and decrease the risk of a fall. Strength, balance, flexibility, and coordination are all important factors for fall prevention.
- Wear sensible shoes
Your shoes can significantly affect your risk of falls. You are more likely to fall when you wear high heels, floppy shoes, or shoes that have slick soles. Walking with just socks on can also be dangerous. Find shoes that fit properly and have nonskid soles.
- Remove hazards
Removing tripping hazards can also decrease the chances of suffering from a fall. Take a look around your home and take the following actions to make your home safer:
- Remove boxes, newspapers, and electrical cords from walkways
- Move coffee tables or magazine racks from high-traffic areas
- Secure loose rugs with double-faced tape or slip-resistant backing (or simply remove loose rugs from your home)
- Store clothing, dishes, food, and other necessities within easy reach
- Repair loose floorboard and carpeting right away
- Always clean up spilled liquids, grease, or food immediately
- Use non-slip mats in the bathtub or shower.
- Light up your living space
If you keep your home well-lit, you will also be able to avoid one of the major causes of slip and fall or trip and fall accidents as well. These tips can help:
- Use night lights in your bedroom, bathroom, and hallways
- Place a lamp within reach of the bed for middle-of-the-night needs
- Make clear paths to light switches if they are not near the room entrance
- Consider replacing traditional switches with glow in the dark or illuminated switches
- Always turn on lights before going up or down stairs
- Store flashlights in easy-to-find places in case of power outages
- Use assistive devices
Sometimes doctors recommend using canes or walkers to be sure that you are steady as you move about. If your doctor recommends a device, it is important that you take that recommendation to heart. You may also want to consider the following assistive devices:
- Handrails on both sides of the stairway
- Non-slip treads for bare-wood steps
- A raised toilet seat or one with armrests
- Grab bars for the shower or tub
- A sturdy plastic seat for the tub or shower (and a hand-held nozzle to help you bathe while sitting down)
- Electric devices to help call for help if a fall has occurred
The Importance of Fall Prevention
Falls can be devastating for seniors in a number of ways. Engaging in fall prevention practices can stop the problem before it ever occurs. Consider implementing the tips above to decrease your likelihood of suffering from a life-altering fall. For more information contact Cobbdale Assisted Living today.