The Seniors Safe Living Guide, Part I: Seniors and Injury
The Seniors Safe Living Guide, Part I: Seniors and Injury

There's no place like home - and sometimes it seems like there's no place safer. For seniors, however, the home is where many injuries occur, and most of these are due to falls. Changes that are part of the normal aging process, such as declining vision, hearing, sense of touch or smell and bone density can increase the risk of injury. Injuries can also be more of a problem for seniors because, as the body ages, it takes longer to heal and recover from injury.

You might think that "accidents just happen" and that nothing can really be done to prevent them. Not so. By taking some simple measures, you can considerably reduce your chances of being injured at home. It's a matter of knowing what the potential hazards are, taking precautions and making adjustments. These changes can make a big difference! This guide provides advice on how to prevent injuries by keeping your home, yourself and your environment as safe as you can.

Checklists allow you to verify and increase the safety of your surroundings and lifestyle, and real-life stories offer testimony to the value of adapting. Finally, the guide provides resource information and an order form for free publications on healthy aging. As the old saying goes: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Inspecting your home and taking action to prevent home injuries can help you to live comfortably and safely for many years to come. We hope you find this guide to be a practical tool to help you along the way.

The Facts: Seniors and Injury in North America

Falls Cause Injuries and Death

Falls account for more than half of all injuries among North Americans 65 years and over. One third of community-dwelling North American seniors experience one fall each year and half of those will fall more than once. The likelihood of dying from a fall-related injury increases with age; among seniors, 20% of deaths related to injury can be traced back to a fall.

Hospitalization

Falls account for 27% of all injury-related hospital admissions and 79% of seniors' injury-related hospitalizations, making this the leading cause of injury-related admissions for seniors. Forty percent of seniors' falls result in hip fractures and half of those who break their hips will never walk unassisted again; women sustain 75-80% of all hip fractures and one in five older adults will die within 12 months of suffering a hip fracture.

Cost of Injuries

Apart from personal suffering, loss of independence and lower quality of life, the costs of seniors' injuries to the health system are enormous - approximately $1 billion annually. Seniors' falls are also responsible for 40% of admissions to nursing homes and result in a 10% increase in home care services.

Where Injuries Occur

Nearly half of all injuries among seniors occur at home. Approximately 15% of all falls occur in the bathroom and stairs; they are responsible for more injuries than any other household area or product.

Fear of Falling

Seniors who fall may limit their activities for fear of falling again. Yet by limiting activities, they are likely to lose strength and flexibility and increase their risk of falling again. Maintaining physical activity is essential if you wish to prevent falls and injury.

The Facts: Aging Brings Changes

 

Aging affects each individual differently. Some seniors experience physical limitations that seriously affect their level of activity, while others are able to remain quite active. The natural process of growing older, however, generally includes changes in abilities. If you're experiencing some of the problems associated with the changes described below, consult your health professional and make sure you undertake whatever changes or adaptations will help you cope and compensate.

Vision

Eyes take longer to adjust from dark to light and vice versa, and become more sensitive to glare from sunlight or unshielded light bulbs. There is a decline in depth perception that can make it hard to judge distances. Perceiving contrasts and colors can also be more difficult.

Touch, Smell and Hearing

Sensitivity to heat, pain and pressure decreases; this may make it more difficult to detect a liquid's temperature or changes in ground or floor surfaces. Sense of smell diminishes, making it harder to smell spoiled food, leaking gas and smoke. Hearing loss can result in difficulty hearing telephones, doorbells, smoke alarms, etc.; it can also result in a decrease in balance, which can make falling more likely.

Bone Density

Bones naturally become less dense and weaker with age. Bone loss among seniors can be worsened by lack of exercise and nutritional deficiencies. Bone loss can lead to painful fractures, disfigurement, lowered self-esteem and a reduction or loss of mobility.

Balance and Gait

Balance is a complex function involving eyes, inner ear, muscular strength and joint flexibility. Any one of these can change as a result of aging. A general decline in equilibrium can make it more difficult to maintain or recover balance, meaning that a slip or trip can become a fall. The speed of walking, how high the heels are lifted, and the length of a person's stride can change with age. These changes can make it more likely for someone to experience a fall.

Memory

In general, sharp brains tend to stay sharp. Cognitive processing and memory may take a bit longer but this is a normal effect of aging. This is why it's important to make lists and keep phone numbers handy. Most seniors develop effective coping mechanisms as they age. Being aware of the normal changes of aging allows you to plan for home and lifestyle adaptations that will help you retain your health, quality of life and independence.

 

Next: Part II of the Seniors Safe Living Guide: Keeping Your Home Safe >

 

Reproduced from the Public Health Agency of Canada website.