Aging & Longevity
Senior citizens often keep falls a secret, even from
Older patients do not want children others to worry
about them, especially if injury not serious
26, 2015 - Maintaining an independent lifestyle is so important for some
senior citizens as they age that they keep it a secret that they’ve
experienced a fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
reports that millions of adults 65 and older suffer from falls each
year. Fewer than half tell their physician.
Dr. Nicole Osevala, an internal medicine specialist at Penn State
Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, these adults may be concerned that a
fall signals they’re not safe living on their own anymore.
“They’re worried about other people becoming
concerned about safety issues at home and the potential that they may
have to move from their home to assisted living or a nursing home,” she
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Additionally, Osevala believes that older patients
do not want others to worry about them.
“If they fall and don’t have a serious injury, they
don’t want to bother their kids or loved ones,” she says.
They also may want to avoid further evaluation.
Osevala advises patients and caregivers to tell
their primary care physician when a fall has occurred so the reasons can
She says reasons for falls can be put into three
1) What about the patient makes them at an
increased risk for falling?
Osevala asks what chronic or preexisting conditions
does the person have that may increase their risk of falling.
Osteoarthritis and peripheral neuropathy are two conditions that Osevala
says are common.
2) What medical changes may have occurred to
heighten their risk?
A patient might have a few risk factors but has not
“Things like infections– urinary tract infections,
pneumonia, skin infections — anything that might make them be not quite
as strong as they would be normally can put them at increased risk,”
Medications may cause side effects that can affect
balance. Antidepressants and antianxiety medication can be particularly
problematic. Blood pressure medication can sometimes lower pressure too
How big is the
problem of senior falls?
In 2012, the direct medical
costs of older adult falls, adjusted for inflation, were $30
billion. With the population aging, both the number of falls and
the costs to treat fall injuries are likely to increase.
One in three adults aged 65
and older falls each year. Of those
who fall, 20% to 30% suffer moderate to severe injuries that
make it hard for them to get around or live independently, and
increase their risk of early death.
Older adults are
hospitalized for fall-related injuries five times more often
than they are for injuries from other causes.
In 2012, emergency
departments treated 2.4 million nonfatal fall injuries among
older adults; more than 722,000 of these patients had to be
More facts about this problem at the CDC website.
3) Are safety hazards in the environment?
Caregivers and family members should address any
dangers like throw rugs, loose cords, poor lighting and clutter on the
Patients should be reminded that they should avoid
icy or slick surfaces as well as uneven surfaces, and know their
“For example, they might try to climb stairs
carrying a laundry basket when they normally have to hold onto the
railing,” Osevala says. “It may be just a poor choice but they get half
way through the task and realize that they’re in a precarious situation
and they’re falling.”
Quite often, Osevala says, there is more than one
reason for the fall. What contributes to a fall is different for every
Older adults are at an increased risk for falling
because their bodies don’t react to losing balance as effectively.
Muscles lose the synchronization they once had and have a much harder
time recovering than in a younger person.
Regardless of the reason, one fall puts seniors at
a higher risk for having another.
“It’s really important to report a fall to your
doctor so they can look at all of those areas and identify anything that
might be pertinent to you and try to address as many as possible,” she
In some cases, patients need to see a physical
Therapists can provide balance training along with
the appropriate assistive device. It is not recommended that a patient
use a walker or cane meant for someone else.
More information from CDC.
The Medical Minute is a health news feature presented by Penn State
Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.