Fatal falls have nearly tripled in older adults in recent years according to a study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
As a person ages, their physical condition declines and they become more prone to falling.
"Unfortunately, we see a lot of them and they can be very serious when they lead to skull fractures or hip fractures," said
Dr. Kevin O'Sullivan, a doctor at Wadley Senior Clinic.
Being evaluated for a fracture after a fall is one of the top five reasons someone is sen to the emergency room, O'Sullivan said.
Falls result in more than 25,000 deaths yearly due to mainly traumatic brain injuries or hip fractures leading to steep health declines. The new analysis included 16 years of U.S. vital statistics data on adults aged 75. Fatal falls increased from 8,600 in 2000 to 25,190 in 2016.
The numbers show the importance of fall prevention and the importance of improving muscle strength and overall balance, according to local physicians.
Fall Prevention Awareness Week is Sept. 23 through 29 this year, according to the National Council on Aging.
"We see quite a few falls in that age group here," said Dr. Thomas Alston, a physician at CHRISTUS St. Michael senior clinic. "Falls that result in head injuries are much more prone to be fatal."
"There is a decline in strength and muscle mass," Alston said. "It's really hard to get muscle strength back as you age. It takes an organized effort to get it back."
Many times a senior adult is fine with balance until they have a major illness and that leads to a rapid decline, Alston said.
Low blood pressure and low blood sugar are two conditions that can result in a fall, O'Sullivan said. A woman who suffers from osteoporosis is more vulnerable to falls because they can result in fractures more easily.
Other times, falls in the home happen at night when a person is disoriented from sleep. Medications can also be a factor because many of them affect balance or cause dizziness.
"A lot of people this age need medications, and while medications come with benefits, there are also risks such as side effects," Alston said.
Many seniors medicate with over the counter sleeping medicine or allergy medicine such as benadryl.
"It reduces awareness," he said.
A person's environment can also be a reason for falls.
"You have to be careful with rugs and things like that. As we age, we don't pick up our feet as well and it's easy to catch a toe on something," Alston said.
Talking about falls is part of a patient's evaluation at Wadley Senior Clinic, O'Sullivan said.
"We always evaluate by asking them if they are having falls and what is causing them. The main point is doing an assessment and seeing what is causing them," O'Sullivan said.
Research has identified many conditions that contribute to falling. These are called risk factors. Many risk factors can be changed or modified to help prevent falls.
— Lower body weakness
— Vitamin D deficiency (that is, not enough vitamin D in your system)
— Difficulties with walking and balancen Use of medicines, such as tranquilizers, sedatives, or antidepressants. Even some over-the-counter medicines can affect balance and how steady you are on your feet.
— Vision problems
— Foot pain or poor footwear
— Home hazards or dangers such as broken or uneven steps, and throw rugs or clutter that can be tripped over.
Many people who fall, even if they're not injured, become afraid of falling. This fear may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities. When a person is less active, they become weaker and this increases their chances of falling
There are some things seniors can do to keep from falling.
— Ask a doctor to evaluate your risk for falling and talk with them about specific things you can do.
— Ask a doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines to see if any might make you dizzy or sleepy. This should include prescription medicines and over-the counter medicines.
— Do strength and balance exercises that make your legs stronger and improve your balance. Tai Chi is a good example of this kind of exercise.
— Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year, and be sure to update your eyeglasses if needed.
— If you have bifocal or progressive lenses, you may want to get a pair of glasses with only your distance prescription for outdoor activities, such as walking. Sometimes these types of lenses can make things seem closer or farther away than they really are.
— Make your home safer by getting rid of things you could trip over and adding grab bars to inside and outside tubs or showers and next to toilets.