An elderly personal alarm with automatic fall detection can detect a fall and call for help without you needing to push the button. This is vital is you are unconscious or immobile following a sudden illness or a fall. The call will automatically go through to either your nominated contacts or a SureSafe operator, depending on which service you have chosen. You will be able to get the help you need fast, even if you are unable to press the button.
Causes of falls in the elderly
As we age our bodies become a little more fragile and unbalanced. This can lead to increased risk of falls, and also the potential for the outcome of a fall to be more serious than for those who are younger.
And falls are generally more prevalent the older you become. Around a third of adults over 65 will have at least one fall a year, and this rises to 50% of those over the age of 80.
While in the vast majority of cases a fall will not result in a serious injury, across the globe an estimated 684,000 fatal falls occur each year, making it the second leading cause of unintentional injury death, after road traffic injuries.
Although falls can never be completely avoided at any age, understanding common causes of falls, taking steps to prevent them, and knowing how to help yourself if you do fall can help you or a loved one to feel a little more reassured and confident.
The common causes of falls in the elderly
There are several factors which can make falling more likely. Some are physical reasons, some are down to the environment the fall happens in, and some are due to how we might behave and live our lives.
Physical condition related falls
Many of the usual changes associated with getting older can cause falls. Some conditions which are more likely to lead to someone falling include:
Age related issues with eyesight can mean that trip or fall hazards are much harder to detect.
Balance issues or muscle weakness
As we age, we can become less physically active which leads to muscle weakness making us more likely to fall.
Some long term health conditions such as low blood pressure, heart disease or dementia can lead to dizziness which contributes to a fall.
Dementia is also a condition which can put the patient at higher risk of falling as they may become confused.
The side effects of some medicines can upset your balance which makes you more prone to falling.
You may be more likely to fall if you are taking four or more medicines. You are also more likely to fall if you have changed your medicine within the past two weeks.
In some cases, surgeries such as hip replacements can leave an older person weaker while they are recovering. This can lead to an increased risk of falling.
Falling at home – environmental hazards
The majority of falls in older people occur in or around the home. In some cases this can be down to specific environmental factors which make trips more likely. These include:
- Loose carpets or rugs causing a trip hazard
- Poor lighting or dim areas
- Clutter which is easy to trip over
- Areas of disrepair, such as loose floorboards
- Lack of safety equipment for those who need it – e.g., grab rails in shower or on stairs
In some cases, the risk of a person falling is also impacted by their lifestyle and behaviours. For example, the NHS identifies a specific risk, particularly among older men, is falling from a ladder while carrying out home maintenance work.
Being unwilling to modify behaviour or routine to avoid falling can lead to accidents happening. Mitigating the risk of falls can be as simple as things like using nonslip footwear on stairs or adding a non-slip mat to the shower.
Increasingly, alcohol is also major risk for falls across all ages. Alcohol is a factor in around 60% of falls. Recent UK studies have found that alcohol misuse issues are rising in those over the age of 65, and in addition to other health issues, this can lead to an increased risk of falling.
Failing to modify behaviours to account for new or increasing difficulties is a serious, yet common, contributing factor for falls in older individuals.
What are the risks of falls for older people?
It’s worth stating that the majority of falls do not result in serious injury. A study by the NCBI found that only 5%- 10% of falls that take place in care homes require medical attention.
However, there are still risks associated with falling at any age, and as we get older, it is more likely that a trip or fall can cause a more serious injury which can affect both mobility and also confidence.
The most common serious injury as a result of a fall is a fracture. For older people, falls can be particularly problematic as osteoporosis is common. Osteoporosis makes bones more brittle and therefore more likely to break or fracture.
The effects of a fracture can be very serious – particularly fractures of the hip or pelvis and can have a long-lasting impact on day to day life and mobility.
For anyone falling, one of the biggest risks is suffering a head injury during a fall. A study conducted in the USA found that almost half of fall related deaths for those over the age of 65 involved a head injury.
A further consideration is how quickly the person gets help after they have fallen. Time and again, research shows that the faster help is available following a fall, the better the chances of recovery as lying on the floor for a long period can result in further complications.
Sadly, it’s also the case that, even if an injury is relatively minor or non-fatal in nature, there are still risks related to both hospitalisation and any needed surgery that may be less worrying in those who are younger.
Mental health, confidence and falls
While many falls may not have serious physical impacts, the psychological toll can be great.
Even a very minor fall can knock your confidence, as it’s a reminder that we are perhaps not as independent as we thought.
For some, the fear of further injury or getting hurt once a previous fall has occurred can drive changes in behaviour that affect their day-to-day life. For example, giving up physical activities that they had previously enjoyed, or a reluctance to leave the home. This actually makes the risk of falling greater, as the person’s body is no longer getting the exercise needed to maintain body strength and mobility.
In turn, this can have a serious impact on mental health, as you can become isolated or feel less confident.
Personal alarms – support at your fingertips
For anyone at risk of falling a personal alarm can help to give back confidence, provide peace of mind for both you and your loved ones and ensure that, should you fall, there will be help on the way.
You can opt to have a personal alarm which includes automatic fall detection so that, even if you or a loved one is unable to activate the alarm as they have become unconscious, the alert is raised and help is available.
Personal alarms can be worn around the neck as a pendant, or as a wrist strap so can be completely unobtrusive in everyday life.
What type of personal alarm suits you may depend on your lifestyle. However some common features which are beneficial for many older people are alarms which are waterproof which means that they are protected from slips when showering or getting in and out of the bath.
Additionally, many alarms now work without a landline, so protect you not only when at home but also when out and about.
Of course, prevention is always better than cure, so it’s vital to ensure that wherever possible you eliminate hazards which can lead to a fall.
In the home, be sure that all carpets, rugs and runners are secure and be sure to remove clutter. If you are likely to have slippery surfaces, wear non skid shoes that will help to “grip” to the floor.
Staying physically active can also help not only to prevent falls, but to reduce the impact of a fall if it happens. Take a look at our best exercises for older people for some inspiration.
Outside the home, be careful to take care in unfamiliar areas. Indeed, even our most familiar spaces may become dangerous if the floor is icy, or if there are fallen, slippery leaves – so be sure to walk slowly and be mindful of your surroundings.
While preventing falls entirely is not realistic, taking steps to reduce both the risks and potential impact of a fall will help you and your loved ones to have peace of mind.