Fatal falls and injuries suffered by older Americans are increasing at an alarming rate. This poses a challenge at retirement and assisted living communities as well as nursing homes and private residences. Older adults are fiercely holding on to as much of their independence as possible. But how to keep older adults safe when their desire for independence is at odds with their well-being?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 24,000 people ages 65 and older in 2012 died after a fall. This is double the number from 10 years prior. The total of fall fatalities from 2002-2012 were over 200,000.
Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in the 65+ age group.
Unfortunately, many older adults refuse to recognize their decline. Numerous senior centers offer sessions to help avoid falls by improving balance and fitness. But until an individual takes a nasty fall, they refuse attempts to help them stay safe.
Stairs pose a hazard for all ages, but especially older adults. When problems arise such as limited depth perception and blurried, yellow vision, stairs become even more of a hazard. Putting a white stripe to define the edge of each step is helpful.
Elderly individuals may shuffle, rather than walk, for many reasons. When carpeting is too thick and soft, it actually increases the chance of a fall. The best type of carpet is one with fibers about an eighth of an inch.
But even the most energetic of older adults, who walk and keep active, can fall. Perhaps they would feel more stable with a cane or in many cases, a walker. But the perceived stigma is too much – they feel that a fall is less embarrassing. That is, until the fall results in an injury. And the fall may be serious enough to require hospitalization and rehabilitation for months.
As individuals age, often activities they had once enjoyed grow more and more rare. Out of town trips, or even trips beyond the familiar neighborhood, taper off. Eventually, going from the bedroom to the bathroom or kitchen are considered “trips.”
Almost everyone has seen the ubiquitous commercial showing an older woman lying on the floor saying “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” While this commercial may be somewhat humorous because it’s a bit “hokey,” the product and the message should be respected.
Too many older adults fall in their homes, with no way of calling for help and no one coming to visit for days. This can cause disastrous results. If they’re lucky, they may have an observant neighbor or mail delivery person who realizes that something is wrong. But what seems apparent to adult children many times is being denied by their parents. They interpret any safety device as an erosion of their independence when in fact, it may be the very thing that keeps them independent.
When an elderly patient spends a day in bed, they generally lose one percent of muscle mass. A fall and a stint in rehab can decondition an individual very quickly.
The good news is that individuals 85 and older who are in excellent health have about the same chance of falling as does someone 20 years their junior. But age tends to creep up on most people very gradually. Eyesight begins to fail and reflexes slow. They brush off the risk of falling, even though they may have friends who have done so. Taking precautions, listening to doctors’ advice and learning from others’ experiences sometimes isn’t enough to make an impression. “I haven’t fallen – yet.” “Yet” is the most dangerous word in the English language.
Part One of “A Delicate Balance”
Elder Care Attorneys CT