As we age, our reflexes slow down, we lose muscle mass and our vision may not be as sharp, causing us to misjudge depths and distances. Over time, these physical changes can multiply, leading to a higher risk of falling. What many seniors and caregivers might not know, however, is that the presence of a chronic condition, such as heart disease, diabetes, cognitive impairment, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or arthritis, can potentially increase this risk.
These chronic conditions often cause loss of balance, neuropathy, painful joints or moments of disorientation. Additionally, medications commonly prescribed to treat chronic health conditions may have side effects such as dizziness or lightheadedness—other significant risk factors for falling.
A Closer Look
According to the National Council on Aging (NCoA), 80 percent of the senior population has at least one chronic health condition and 68 percent have two or more, which is a large group of people at risk for serious falls and resulting injuries from those falls.
Through a Philips-sponsored retrospective study, we found that seniors with chronic conditions fell and required emergency transport up to 54 percent more often than those without chronic health conditions. The study revealed surprising new data linking seniors living with chronic conditions to a greater risk of falling.
With 5.3 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer's, 24 million from COPD and 29 million from diabetes, chronic conditions are a growing concern in the United States. In fact, seniors with COPD fell 42 percent more frequently, diabetes patients fell 30 percent more frequently and those with heart conditions fell 29 percent more frequently than seniors without chronic conditions.
Not all health conditions affect fall risk equally—data shows that seniors with osteoporosis, cognitive impairments such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, COPD and heart disease fell more often than those with other chronic illnesses.
Keeping Seniors Safe
With so many seniors living with chronic conditions and the associated increased risk of falling, it is important to take steps to help seniors maintain their everyday routines. Patients, caregivers, family members and clinicians should collaborate to help prevent accidents and to be better prepared by anticipating falls and other medical problems.
Seniors should feel empowered to live an active and independent lifestyle and feel safe while doing so. Coordinating care will not only improve the quality of life for seniors, but it will also reduce the chances of loss of independence while giving caregivers peace of mind knowing that their loved ones are safe.
Seniors and their caregivers can be better prepared by:
- Considering medical alert devices with fall detection
If seniors do fall, the device can automatically access a response associate if it detects a fall that otherwise would not be reported. Having a medical alert device can also help seniors to avoid the medical complications associated with waiting a long time for emergency help to arrive.
- Getting timely access to care
Proactively coordinate care, anticipate urgent care needs and ask how best to ensure clinicians are accessible when they are needed most. Use emergency response solutions with automatic fall detection features that provide access to a response associate so that emergency medical services can be reached as quickly as possible.
- Avoiding unnecessary hospital care
Automatic fall detection technology and responsive medical care may help to avoid hospital transport, emergency room visits and prolonged hospitalizations. Otherwise, patients could potentially suffer serious medical complications from lying on the floor unable to move for a long period of time.
- Preventing future falls
With a fuller picture of what is happening to seniors in their homes, caregivers and therapists can take proactive steps to provide a safer home by adding guardrails and grab bars in bathrooms, or swapping a conventional bed for a hospital bed.
- Keeping clinicians up to date
Recording all falls, even minor ones, gives physicians added information that can help them assess a senior's health status and make adjustments to care, such as prescribing exercises to improve balance and coordination.
By addressing the concern for safety proactively, you can help your patient avoid an injury or an accident. Do not let fear of falls dictate your patient's quality of life. If you enable yourself with the right resources, you can give your patient back his or her confidence today.