Researchers are analyzing the factors that change a stumble into a fall in an effort to ascertain how retirees could avoid potentially fatal injuries associated with falls. According to the study, the presence of a few environmental and/or physiological factors can mean the difference between a stumble and a dangerous fall. Researchers note that there are dozens of potential factors that cause the initial stumble and may result in the failure to retain balance-which causes a fall.
Falls: Potentially Fatal
The study reports that approximately one in three older Americans fall each year, and about 2.2 million of them need medical attention. About 340,000 suffer broken or fractured hips which often lead to a cascading series of ailments often resulting in death. 40 percent of victims will move into an assisted-living facility and about half of those who undergo therapy will never walk unaided again. A quarter who suffer broken hip injuries dies within a year.
Study Evaluates Stumbles and Falls
The researchers are strapping elderly test subjects into harnesses and evaluating their agility and balance. Their goal is to identify factors that can be predicted and avoided. Currently, there is very little research on the concrete reasons that people fall, rather than recover their balance.
One early finding reveals that young people are just as likely to fall as older people given the same circumstances. The one defining the difference, the researchers note, is that younger people can more easily recover from stumbles while older people often cannot.
Risk Factors Associated with Falls
Researchers identified a preliminary list of factors that increase the chances of a fall and recommended tips to prevent them.
- Age is a significant contributing factor
- Dips in blood pressure due to suddenly standing up can cause falls
- Impaired vision is a risk factor in falls
- Arthritis and reduced muscle strength play a role
- Some prescription medications raise the risk
- Dementia sufferers are at a higher risk
The researchers recommend that family members make rooms and living arrangements easier for older Americans to navigate. Removing throw rugs and other “knick knacks” on the floor, confirming that glasses prescriptions are up to date, removing furniture that sticks out or has “legs” and purchasing hip protecting pads that loved ones can wear can reduce the risk of fall injuries.