Was Humpty Dumpty a senior? Chances are he was because they could not put him back together again. In fact, a fall is the main reason that an older adult loses his or her independence. The implications of a fall can vary from a little inconvenient to devastating with reduced mobility, lower quality of life, and even death.
Across Canada, between 20 and 30 per cent of seniors fall each year. In British Columbia, falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations for seniors; about 40 per cent of these were for hip fractures. Between 2003 and 2010, self-reported injuries from falls increased 43 per cent, and deaths by 65 per cent. Clearly, a fall is a significant health risk for an older adult.
Falling can precipitate both mental and physical outcomes. Negative mental outcomes include developing a fear of falling, increased confusion and depression. Physical outcomes can mean a loss of mobility and chronic pain. There are also significant costs associated with falls, some for the individual, and others for the healthcare system.
There are factors that make a fall more likely including age-related changes in eyesight, hearing or a poor sense of touch. Mobility problems like slower reflexes, muscle weakness and impaired balance can also contribute. Environmental factors can also account for falls: slippery floors, loose throw rugs, cluttered floors, doors with raised sills, missing handrails, uneven sidewalks and poorly lit areas, both indoors and outdoors can mean danger.
A person’s choices can also lead to a higher risk of falling. For example, wearing loose-fitting clothing, worn-out shoes or shoes with thick soles can make it harder to get around, and then make it more difficult to regain lost balance. For whatever reason, perhaps related to denial, some people choose to not use assistive devices like canes or walkers, maybe thinking: “I’m safe here in the house,” but half of all falls that lead to hospitalization occur in the home.
Once a person has had a fall, they may become fearful of having another. This can then lead to being less active which can mean muscle weakness and reduced physical fitness, which can in turn mean less ability to avoid a fall...
There are things you can do to avoid falling and becoming yet another statistic. Start by improving strength and balance — physical activity is a great way to do this. Local recreation groups have many classes designed specifically for seniors including exercises, yoga and aquacise. Get regular vision checkups and have problems corrected. A review of your medications with a doctor or pharmacist can highlight potential problems for mobility and balance. Around the home, look for and remove tripping and slipping hazards — does that extension cord really need to be there? Or the throw rug?
There are ample resources for anyone looking to improve their odds against falling. A good place to start is the “Staying Independent” brochure from SeniorsBC.ca
which offers a handy checklist to help you decide if you are at risk of falling. It provides ideas that you can discuss with your family or healthcare provider. Another online resource is the newly launched Finding Balance BC website
. And of course, talk to your doctor or physical therapist. Don’t let a fall become a catalyst for losing your independence.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.