Over the last decade, we’ve seen a 31% increase in the rate of deaths from falls by those 65 and older. That’s a huge concern for healthcare providers and families alike — especially since analysis shows that many of these falls were avoidable.
In 2007, around 18,000 senior citizens (age 65 and older) died from a fall. In 2016, that number rose to almost 30,000. And, researchers warn, if this trend continues unchecked, that number will skyrocket even further to around 60,000 by the year 2030.
Falls have long been the most common injury — fatal or otherwise — for the elderly. That’s understandable when you take into account factors such as muscle atrophy or weakness, deteriorated vision, conditions that fog up lucidity such as dementia, and even medication side effects that can result in dizziness or confusion. When you add that to the fact that seniors are increasingly depressed, anxious, and unable to sleep their recommended amount each night, you have a recipe for disaster.
So, even though these risk factors are fairly straightforward, the question remains: why are rates of fatal falls in the elderly rising so dramatically with time? Although there’s no definitive answer to this question, one hypothesis is increasingly accepted by those studying this public health concern: longer lifespans. Yes, just the mere fact that Americans on the whole are living longer than before might be the explanation for why we keep seeing more and more falls by those aged 65 and up. If there are more seniors, there will be more falls — period. Particularly for seniors who have chronic health problems, the risk of falling is a daily concern that should be understood and mitigated as much as possible.
One of the reasons that these rising numbers concern medical practitioners is the fact that, on the whole, a decent chunk of those fatal falls are deemed as totally preventable. As we age, the temptation to slide into a sedentary, inactive lifestyle becomes greater. Although there is naturally a decline in energy and physical ability that comes with aging, most people vastly underestimate their ability to remain fit and healthy well into their old age. As we’ve said many a time here at Urgent 9, living a healthy lifestyle is medicine. It’s preventative medicine that, in this case, can strengthen musculature and stave off frailty for as long as possible.
What’s more, researchers believe that healthcare professionals should be discussing falls with their elderly patients much more than they currently do. Many experts believe that by bringing awareness to the seriousness of fall consequences on the elderly, seniors will be able to take active steps to safeguard themselves against a fall. That might mean non-slip mats in the bathroom, extra care taken when going down the stairs, or looking for a living environment that includes carpeting instead of hardwood floors. Ideally, it should also include a close look at whether medications are causing unnecessary dizziness or disorientation; and of course, a reinforcement of the idea that staying relatively healthy and strong is the best way to reduce fall risk.