While our weekly weather can be difficult to predict, seasonal weather in the Midwest is fairly predictable. We know that the colorful, mild days of autumn will eventually be replaced with the blustery, white days of winter. Winter storms can lead to icy sidewalks, slippery driveways and puddles of melted snow on the floors of our homes and businesses. For many of us, these hazards are minor. For those over 65, these winter hazards can lead to devastating falls that may have a huge impact on overall health. A hospital stay for an elderly patient following a fall can be nearly twice as long as an elderly patient admitted for another reason.
Falls can happen any time of year, not just during the winter months. According to the National Safety Council, one out of every three adults over the age of 65 will fall each year. A fall can result in minor injuries like cuts and bruises, but it may also lead to more severe injuries like hip fractures and head trauma. Hip fractures can be one of the most serious injuries resulting from a fall.
Many healthy adults with a hip fracture are able to get back to normal activity with the help of rehabilitation and physical therapy. Unfortunately, there are also those people who are unable to return to independent living following a hip fracture. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) reports that nearly 25% of elderly people who suffer a hip fracture die within the first six months after the injury. The AAFP also indicates that falls account for 70% of accidental death in people 75 and older.
Obviously winter weather and age can increase a person’s risk of falling. Other risk factors include:
- Environment – walkways and lighting in and around the home can be safety hazards.
- Health – bone weakness or neurological conditions can lead to falls.
- Medication – side effects may include dizziness, confusion or sleepiness.
- Fear – the fear of falling can lead to increased risk due to decreased physical activity and insecurity.
One mistake many people make after falling is not talking to a doctor. Even if there are no obvious signs of injury, a fall may be a sign of another medical problem that needs attention. Blood sugar, blood pressure, eyesight, infection, medication changes and other medical conditions may also lead to falls. These all need prompt attention from a physician.
Falls are not completely preventable but there are ways to decrease risk. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that staying active is one of the best ways to reduce risk. The CDC also suggests reviewing medications with a doctor or pharmacist to reduce side effects and potential dangerous drug interactions, having regular eye exams and reducing trip hazards in the home. In the winter months, be sure to wear appropriate clothing and shoes before leaving the house and carry a cell phone to use in case of an emergency.
Proctor Place is a Life Care Retirement Community. For more information about Proctor Place or to schedule a personalized tour, please contact Amy Durbin at (309) 685-6580.