Falls have been in our lives for longer than we can remember. Our first steps ended with us falling to our hands and knees. And even today, with years of walking experience, there’s still always the possibility of tripping on a cord, missing a step going down the stairs, or slipping on a wet surface. Falls are often scary – many of us feel a panic flow over us in the split-second we realize our footing isn’t as secure as we assumed. While for some, that panic is the worst part of a fall, for many seniors, falls can have damage that is difficult, if not impossible, to bounce back from.
No one is safe from a fall. But what makes seniors more susceptible to falls has less to do with the environment and more with their ability to navigate it the way they used to. For example:
- Reduced eyesight can weaken a senior’s ability to recognize a falling hazard
- Slower reaction times can reduce a senior’s ability to make a snap decision on how to land
- Less mobility can make it difficult for a senior to position themself properly in time
Falls are a major problem for seniors. One out of every four seniors in the US will fall this year. Out of these 12 million seniors, 3 million will end up in the emergency room because of a fall. And for 28000 seniors this year, these falls will prove fatal. (Source)
Falls are dangerous for seniors for a number of reasons. Because seniors typically have weakened bones and joints, a fall that would feel like a slight bump to someone much younger could easily break or fracture a senior’s bones – wrists, arms, ankles and hips are the usual ones. Head trauma is also quite common, as seniors’ heads typically are less able to deal with blunt force and because slower reaction times can prevent them from shielding their heads quick enough.
The impact from a fall can make the senior unable to get up, either because they physically can’t or because they are unconscious. If they need medical attention, prolonged response to the fall can make the effect of the fall far worse. And even during the recovery phase, if the senior is not able to move as they used to because of the injury, this can cause their health to suffer in other areas.
A “fatal fall” often conjures dramatic images of a descent from a tall height. But most of these falls hardly dramatic at all – they are from a standing height and in situations seniors had no trouble dealing with before. Because of how easy and common it is for a normal situation to turn into a deadly one, many seniors have a fear of falling that can be as debilitating as a fall itself.
Read our interview with Connie Lin to hear about how falls have affected her life.