By Lauren Makahian Contributing writer. Originally published in PV News on 3/10/2021
I love watching little kids playing. They’re inquisitive. They haven’t yet developed the filters of political correctness. Most of all, they’re fearless.
They run, jump, and climb without a moment’s thought about consequences. Those of us old enough to remember riding around in the back of a station wagon without seatbelts might even say our parents didn’t worry about us getting hurt as kids either.
It’s almost as if kids are made out of rubber. They stumble and tumble and get right back up again. If they do break something, they heal pretty quickly. At three feet tall, less than fifty pounds, and lots of growing to do, kids can be very resilient.
At the other end of the spectrum are older adults.
For them, falls are much more dangerous. When they walk, they’re farther from the ground than when they were little, and they’re much less stable as they age. The likelihood of a fall is greater, as is the likelihood of a bone fracture from it. For people suffering from osteoporosis or increased bone fragility, the risk of a bone fracture from a fall is higher still, and far more serious.
The risks to health, quality of life, and even life itself after a break is a significant concern.
Of all possible breaks, a hip fracture seems to be among the most severe an older adult can suffer. According to a recent article in CNN Health, one in three adults over the age of 50 will die within a year of suffering a hip fracture. Those over 80 have a five-to-eight times greater risk of death within three months compared to those without a hip fracture.
Whether the increased mortality rate results from complications of the fall or subsequent surgery, including internal bleeding, stroke, infections, or other complication, is irrelevant. Simply put, you don’t want to fall. Ever. You also don’t want your loved one to fall.
Understanding the risk factors
Unfortunately, we can’t completely eliminate the risk of a fall, not to mention that a hip fracture (in particular) can be caused by other incidents like running into the edge of a table or desk. In fact, one of the risk factors for a hip fracture is age. They’re just more likely to occur in those over age 65.
What we can do, however, is understand why falls happen in the first place—the risk factors. Armed with this information, we can then evaluate our own situations and those of our loved ones. Mitigating the risks is really the best we can do, short of staying in bed or wrapping ourselves in adult-sized bubble wrap.
Simply put, age itself is a risk factor. With age comes an increased risk of several other risk factors. One of these is gait and balance. If loved ones are in excellent physical condition and walk miles every day, you’re fortunate. Gait, however, can decline with age for a number of reasons, including lack of exercise.
If medical professionals diagnose osteoporosis or flag gait as an issue, consider yourself on notice. If you observe loved ones using walls and furniture to assist with their movement (so-called furniture walking), pay attention. Ask a professional about hip protectors, which are approved by the FDA to help prevent hip fractures.
Vision issues contribute to risk. If your loved one has difficulty judging depth of steps or seeing uneven landscape or changes in floor texture, the risk of falling goes way up.
Judgement can also decline with age. I’ve worked on countless cases where someone made a poor choice, almost to spite their condition. They insist on climbing steps or walking without assistance with disastrous results.
Other risk factors include medications. Discuss living conditions, excessive clutter, or the presence of steps with your healthcare professional.
Dementia as a risk
Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias can lead to all of the risk factors we’ve listed. Judgement, gait, balance, vision, depth perception, and other visual capabilities all degrade.
If we address the risks, we can help our loved ones avoid falls. Improving conditions in homes by making them age-in-place friendly may be enough. However, I must emphasize the importance of bringing in competent professionals to better evaluate situations. Their experience and objectivity let them see things you can’t.
Falls for older adults are a serious matter and need to be taken seriously. Your loved one’s health and your well-being are simply too important to take chances.