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.
factors associated with greater risk of falls and injury in seniors include:
l Previous fractures (weakened bones)
l Vitamin D deficiency (anemia, neuropathy)
l Impaired vision/hearing
l Recent hospital discharge
l Poor sleep/obstructive sleep apnea
l Urinary incontinence (i.e., hurrying to the bathroom)
l 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:
l Broken or uneven steps
l High thresholds
l Throw rugs
l Extension cords
l Poor lighting, including the lack of nightlights
l Lack of grab bars in the bathroom or railings on both sides of stairs.