Protect Against Falls in 2021
Published: August 27, 2021
September is National Falls Prevention Awareness Month. Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sounds the alarm about the life-changing impact of fall injuries, especially among older adults. They report that each year, millions of people aged 50 and older will fall, and 20% of those falls cause a serious injury, including hip fractures or traumatic brain injuries. Thousands of older adults die as a result of falls.
Fall prevention always is an important goal, and during 2021, it takes on even greater importance. With more seniors sticking close to home during the pandemic, you might think that the fall rate would have gone down—but according to a poll conducted by experts from the University of Michigan Healthcare Policy and Innovation, the rate actually went up. The researchers pinpointed several factors behind this seeming epidemic of falls:
Inactivity. More than one-third of the older adults polled said they had cut back on physical activity as the pandemic progressed. This isn’t surprising, with many of our usual exercise opportunities out of bounds to prevent spreading the virus. The seniors polled also reported that they were spending more time sitting down, and less time standing or moving around. This resulted in many older adults suffering deconditioning, with reduced muscle strength, energy and sense of balance.
Fear of falling. Almost half of the adults polled said that they were afraid of falling. It might seem as if this was a good thing, and that it would motivate them to be safe. But in fact, the fear of falling can lead to a dangerous cycle, where fear keeps us glued to the couch, causing us to exercise less and become weaker…which raises the risk of falls and the fear of falling all the more!
Social isolation. “We need to make up for lost time and get older adults on track, or back on track, with the kinds of movement and strengthening that can safeguard their independence by reducing their risk of falls or of major fall-related injuries,” said poll director Dr. Preeti Malani. “Even better if this happens in conjunction with social interaction.” People who are socially isolated are less likely to be physically active. With no one around, they’re less motivated to take a walk, go to exercise class, even just move around the home.
The team also found that seniors who fell were less likely to seek appropriate medical care. During the pandemic, 28% of the older adults who were injured during a fall delayed or failed to get medical help. “People who have lingering effects from a fall experienced during the height of the pandemic—joint pain or reduced mobility and strength, for instance—should seek rehabilitation and other care to avoid or reduce the risk of any further issues,” the team counseled.
Other studies during the pandemic have revealed more factors that raised the risk of falls:
Substance use. University of California San Francisco experts say lonely people are twice as likely to take opioids, sedatives and anti-anxiety medications, all of which can raise the risk of falls. Older adults also report that they are drinking more alcohol. Jokes you might have heard about “quarantinis” are sadly all too accurate.
Nutrition challenges. With less ability to access nourishing, healthy food, many older adults are eating more processed, salty foods, raising their risk of obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and other health conditions that are linked with mobility challenges and falls.
Delaying health care. Many people are missing routine doctor appointments to help manage their medical conditions. They’ve skipped their eye exams and having their hearing aids checked. Your provider can reassure you about safety precautions the clinic is taking at this time.
They spend more time at home. Did you know that most fall injuries happen in an elder’s own house or apartment? Catch up on removing hazards, improving safety features such as lighting, and performing routine home maintenance.
We can reduce our personal fall risk. Seniors can build up their strength, improve their balance, learn to stop a fall, or even avoid injuries during a fall. The CDC says that a previous fall is considered a top risk factor for future falls. So while physical therapists at Welbrook Centennial Hills provide the medical and rehabilitation care guests need to recover from a fall injury, they also help guests build skills to help lower the risk going forward.
Welbrook Centennial Hill’s trained, compassionate staff provide the medical and rehabilitation care our guests need to recover as fully as possible from injuries, surgery or illness.