The National Institutes of Health offer a sobering statistic related to falls among seniors: 1.6 million older adults go to the emergency room each year due to fall-related injuries. A variety of studies have shown a high correlation between cold weather and an increase in falls among older adults, too. The chances for falls in colder weather increases significantly after age 65, and dramatically for seniors 75 years and older.
Unfortunately, other statistics about seniors and fall-related injuries are alarming as well. Falls are the leading cause of injury at home among Americans 65 years and older. According to the National Safety Council, each week falling seriously injures 300,000 Americans older than 65. Twenty to 30 percent of these falls lead to permanent disability. The news can even be worse: falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among those age 75 and older.
Once cold weather comes, seniors should be aware of their increased risk for falls. Snow and ice are a danger for anyone who ventures outdoors in winter, but it is especially unsafe for older adults for a variety of reasons:
• As seniors age, sensation in their feet may decline, especially if they have arthritis, diabetes, poor circulation or complications from a stroke. A decrease in sensation can affect proper balance. For this reason, venturing outdoors in cold weather can cause an added risk for them.
• Seniors are more likely to be on multiple medications, which can sometimes cause side affects that make falling easier such as mild dementia or dizziness.
• Many seniors walk with an unsteady gait compared to when they were younger. Also, if seniors don’t practice good exercise habits, muscles can lose strength and elasticity, thereby leaving older adults more susceptible to falls.
Those seniors who work hard to maintain and even increase their flexibility, strength, balance and endurance are less likely to fall. Occupational therapists recommend routine exercise year round so senior adults stay healthy. Even something as simple as a healthy diet can reduce your chance of falling year round — and especially in wintertime.
Another important healthy habit that can help prevent falls is getting routine eye exams. If you are wearing the wrong prescription eyewear, your chance of falling is much greater. Taking care of your eyes as you get older can help catch problems early such as glaucoma or cataracts. Since these and similar conditions get gradually worse, it’s easy to miss how serious they have become over time.
Finally maintaining good relationships with your physician and pharmacist are important for year round health so side affects from medication that could lead to falls are monitored and prevented. Keep in mind that cold and flu remedies often contain ingredients that make some people drowsy. n
Information provided by Clint Rogers, Comfort Keepers, 1300 Metro East Drive, Suite 128, Pleasant Hill, 515-243-0011.