Elderly fall prevention is a top safety concern for aging parents for a good reason. According to The Centers for Disease Control, one out of three adults age 65 years and older falls each year. Even more frightening: Falls are the leading cause of injury death for older adults and the death rates have been rising.
Unfortunately, when it comes to falls and the elderly, the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” doesn’t apply. Even non-fatal falls can have devastating life-changing consequences. Broken arms, legs, and backs are common, as are hip fractures and head injuries.
And the older you are, the more severe those consequences become. According to the CDC, “Adults age 75 and older who fall are four to five times more likely than those age 65 to 74 to be admitted to a long-term care facility for a year or longer.”
With those kind of cheerful statistics, it’s not surprising that elderly fall victims are often terrified of falling again. That’s understandable. But for many older adults, the fear of falling becomes a phobia that actually INCREASES their risk of falling.
Part of the reason may be psychological. Recent studies indicate that anticipating a fall may help precipitate a fall. But the main reason is that fear of falling can lead to reduced physical activity and fitness…which leads to weaker muscles and impaired balance…which is a recipe for more falls.
IMPORTANT: If you’re concerned that your aging parent or loved one may be risking serious injury due to a fall, you’re not alone. But don’t expect them to let you know they’re having trouble staying on their feet. Many older adults don’t tell their family or their doctors about balance problems because they are embarrassed or fear losing their independence as much as they fear falling.
But suffering falls in silence is dangerous — a point that senior health and home care columnist Sara-Lynn Reynolds recently made in an excellent opinion piece for the Foxborough Patch:
If you you begin to recognize that you are at risk of falling, it is time to be pro-active – denial is not helpful. Do not let someone insist you are ‘just getting old’. Go for a ‘fall risk assessment’ at your local Physical Therapist office. Learn what they have to offer. They will help correct your posture and strengthen (with proper therapy) your muscles in no time. Frailty is not your friend. If you are living alone, (or know of someone who is) and find yourself or them being inactive, know that inactivity DOES accelerate the loss of muscle, strength and balance and you will be at a higher risk for a fracture if you do fall…which equals possible nursing home care.
I understand that the body does not do what it used to (mine doesn’t either). I understand being on a fixed budget. I understand not wanting to exercise. However, we have to keep moving. And although canes are good to pirouette around and a walker is a good assistive device, it is important to realize that physical activity is the “key” to maintaining or restoring our bodies to an improved physical state which in turn will stimulate our brains and restore our confidence and desire to get out and live a more active and productive life for the time available to us.