If you ask older adults, “What are your biggest fears?” many will tell you they have a fear of falling. Some have already fallen, while others have witnessed a friend or family member suffer a fall and its painful or sometimes life-threatening consequences.
Unfortunately, many older adults do not receive the help they need preventing falls because they are reluctant to report them. This may be due to concerns about possible loss of independence or the need to leave their own home and move in with others or even into a nursing home. While most falls do not result in a serious injury, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in adults over age 65. Falls can be a big danger to an older adult, regardless of their overall health, and can occur anywhere—in an independent living situation, at assisted living, even in the hospital.
Community Living Older Adults
About one third of older community living adults over age 65 suffer a fall each year. Although 6% of these falls result in a serious injury, 2 million are treated in emergency departments for related injuries. Fall risk increases with each decade of life. In 2010, persons less than age 75 had the highest rate of fall related injuries for which a health care professional was consulted.
Hospitalized Older Adults
Older adults are more likely to have a fall while in a hospital. Increased weakness related to illness, unfamiliar surroundings, noise and hospital routines, medications, confusion, and exacerbations of chronic conditions are all contributing factors to the increased risk of falls. Injuries related to the fall can lead to increased length of stay and increased costs.
Older Adults Living in Long-Term Care Facilities
About ½ to up to ¾ of all adults living in long-term care settings suffer a fall each year. This is twice the rate of falls for older adults living in the community. Older adults who reside in nursing homes tend to fall because they are more frail in general than community dwelling seniors, are older, and have more cognitive impairment and difficulty walking.
Many falls are potentially preventable. Identifying and reducing risk for falls is an important part of every older adult’s health maintenance plan. Falls risks may include environmental risks at home or outdoors, as well as health conditions, medications that may be used to treat these conditions, or risky behaviors.