Researchers in a new study published in JAMA found a startling rise in the number of fatal falls among elderly people, according to The New York Times. We have written in this space about falls, most recently prompted by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s fall in her U.S. Supreme Court office.
Possible medical causes
As we explained in that post, when an older person falls, an aggressive search for underlying medical conditions should begin. Medical professionals will likely look for problems like infection, cancer, heart attack or the flu or even something as seemingly innocuous as dehydration.
Even a minor fall can evolve into a dangerous medical problem for an elder, so seek medical attention. Every senior should be sure to have advance legal directives in place like a living will and medical durable power of attorney so that if a fall renders them unconscious or unable to make decisions, doctors will have direction about the person’s preferences and an agent will have been named to step in and make medical decisions.
The new study found that fatalities after falling for people at least age 75 in the U.S. doubled from 2000 (52 per 100,000) to 2016 (111 per 100,000). The researchers are not sure why. One of the researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is cited in The New York Times article (that contains a link to the study) as surmising that it is most likely due to people living longer while having medical problems that previously may have caused death.
In addition, certain medications taken by seniors may increase falling risk.
Exercise can help prevent falling, especially weight lifting and tai chi. Other recommendations include using a walker or cane and avoiding sleeping medication like Ambien. Other medications that can cause dizziness include Benadryl, Advil PM, Valium and Xanax. Good hydration also fends it off.
Experts recommend wearing sensible footwear and avoiding slippers. Use single-focus eyeglasses instead of bifocals or progressive lenses outside to keep depth perception on track. Eliminate scatter rugs, clutter, cords in areas of use and other tripping hazards.
If a loved one is in long-term care, be sure that fall prevention is part of the person’s care planning and follow up to be sure staff members are aware and carrying out recommendations.