Everyone sometimes falls. However, this is very common in adults, and the consequences are most severe for people over the age of 65. Many elderly people ignore advices and live in homes or apartments that have been overwhelmed with really dangerous objects.
Many people forget that their sight is weaker and a general health condition poorer. In addition, with years, a certain slowing down of reflexes is inevitable. Unfortunately, the bones eventually become fragile. Finally, elderly people are increasingly vulnerable to various disorders and illnesses (such as Parkinson’s disease, blood vessels diseases and arthritic conditions) that can affect the ability to maintain balance; medications that the patient takes against these illnesses can sometimes cause dizziness as an unpredictable consequence.
Fallings are the most common form of accidents in people over the age of 65. In the United Kingdom, for example, in cases where people died as a result of falling (or complications that occured during the fall), half of these cases are deaths caused by an accident. According to a recent estimate, about 3 million elderly people seek medical help every year, meaning that on average more than 30% of these people experience a pretty serious fall.
Half of the patients in the typical orthopedic department for women are usually older women with fractures. The percentage for older men is lower, probably because the bones of a woman are somewhat more fragile. Namely, osteoporosis is more common in women.
Many falls, even in people over the age of 65, end only with bruising (hematoma). However, due to skin fragility and tiny blood vessels, subcutaneous hematoma in older people is more serious and more extensive, even after a smaller fall. Additional danger is the possibility of falling onto an object that is dangerous by itself.
Half of the deaths due to burns in the UK are the result of the falling of the elderly people on heaters or containers with a hot water. In addition, a slight blow to the head can cause bleeding in the skull. The fractures, especially the so-called hip fractures, are especially common among older people; the chance of hip fracture due to fall increases twice every five years when the person is older than 50.
Apart from injuries caused by the fall, accidents can also cause a series of indirect consequences. Sometimes, an elderly person, who has experienced an unlucky fall, remains motionless and helpless for hours and days. In such cases, hypothermia, pneumonia and psychological stress may develop, and death may also occur. Furthermore, if a fracture requires a stay in the hospital, a long period of immobility can further weaken the bones and muscles.
Some older people, who have experienced a tough fall, lose self-confidence and begin to avoid any movement. Any weaker activity affects even more on confidence and develops a vicious cycle which can easily ”attach” an older person to the bed.
What to do?
If you live alone, find a way to call for help (your neighbors, fro example) if you experience an accident. Some elderly people always have a whistle near them. Some people are in a certain ”agreement” with their neighbors, so they give the agreed sign (on a daily basis) that everything is all right. If there is no sign, the neighbors will know something is wrong. (But be careful with it: do not use a signal system that might help burglars!) It would also be advisable to arrange regular phone calls or visits with friends and relatives, as any discontinuation of the agreement, without prior notice, will warn them that maybe something happened. Remember that just a few days of lying down can cause weakness and stiffness of the muscles and joints, thus making the balance worse. So, be active.
If you feel like you’re losing your security when you are on your feet, talk to your doctor. This may be the result of a number of causes, and the physician will probably carry out a variety of examinations, including blood test and X-rays, to determine whether insecurity is the consequence of a basic illness that can be cured. If you have experienced a severe fall, also contact your doctor, although you may not feel any visible consequences.
If someone falls in your presence, or if you find a person who can not move after the fall, take the appropriate first aid measures. An immediate medical help is needed for the elderly person who feels the pain. If a person is unconscious, call an emergency.
Although it does not have to cause fracture(s), the fall can be very painful and unpleasant. It is therefore important to relieve the pain as soon as possible, so that the injured person can move. Although the bed is the most convenient place to rest, the elderly person, who already feels stiffness and pain after falling, can easily stay ”attached” to the bed and become immobile. The pains are suppressed by the proper means, and swollen and painful bruises with cold compress. Muscle stiffness can be alleviated with warming up.