The leading cause of accidental injury for senior citizens are falls, but motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of accidental death for persons aged 65 to 74. Together, falls and automobile accidents (including pedestrian-vehicle accidents) represent about 91 percent of hospital admissions for seniors who suffered a serious injury. Although less common, overuse injury is another source of accidental injury for seniors, since we become more prone to muscle and joint injury as we age.
Injury prevention is hugely important for seniors because, as we age, falls and other sources of physical trauma are more likely to cause serious injury; recovery is more difficult and lengthier; and injuries often result in a lower quality of life, chronic pain and an increased risk of death. And, injuries have substantial consequences not only for the injured senior, but also for their caregivers.
How to Avoid Falling
The most common injuries that result when a senior citizen falls are:
- Hip fractures
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and head injury
- Back and spinal injury
- Wrist, ankle and arm fractures
Here are Risk factors for falling:
- Potential hazards and dangers in your home, including
- Tripping hazards such as area rugs and clutter
- Broken or uneven stairs
- Prescriptions and drugs that can affect balance and how steady you are on your feet, such as tranquilizers and anti-depressants
- Poorly fitting footwear, and footwear that is slippery and without traction increase the risk of falling, both in the home and outside, particularly in icy and snowy conditions
- Leg and foot pain, and lower body weakness
- Difficult with walking and balance (which can be related to lower body pain or weakness)
- Vitamin D deficiency
Actions that you can take to reduce the risk of falling
1. Maintain a healthy lifestyle that incorporates regular exercise without undue risk.
A vitally important approach to minimize our risk of falling as we age is to neither overestimate or underestimate our risk of falling. Studies have shown that some seniors overestimate the risk of falling and as a result, they reduce their level of physical activity. By doing so, we actually increase our likelihood of falling because we need regular physical activity to maintain strength and balance, particularly as we age. On the other hand, seniors who underestimate their risk of falling sometimes take risks that exceed their physical abilities which creates a greater risk of falling.
Exercises that improve your balance and strengthen your legs are most important for seniors.
2. Have your general health assessed by your doctor.
Find out if there are any medicines and/or specific exercises that would benefit you. Depending on your doctor’s findings, you may require a vitamin D supplement and/or osteoporosis medication.Also, ask your doctor to review your medicines to determine whether any medication may contribute to a loss of balance.
3. Have your eyes tested annually and wear the appropriate prescription needed when you’re active and walking.
4. Ensure a safe home environment.
This may include: getting rid of, or affixing, any tripping hazards such as area rugs; installing a grab bar beside your bathtub and shower; adding railings along stairways; and maintaining good lighting in hallways, stairs and around your home.Consider a night light in your bathroom to prevent falls during the night.
5. Wear appropriate footwear that provides support and traction, both indoors and when outside.
6. Take extra care in inclement weather. When sidewalk and road conditions are poor, particularly during winter ice and snowstorms, avoid walking on pathways and in potentially slippery parking lots and consider staying at home.
Steps to help avoid a car accident or pedestrian accident
Transport Canada has reported that more senior citizens are fatally injured in car accidents than any other group in our population. These statistics include seniors who died in pedestrian accidents, cycling accidents, on motorcycles, and those involved in motor vehicle accidents, often while behind the wheel.
Certainly, there are many circumstances outside of our control, such as a reckless driver who causes an accident regardless of our own actions. However, seniors and others can reduce their own risk of being involved in a car accident through the following actions:
- Only cross the street at an intersection and when there’s sufficient time for you to cross safely. And, check carefully for drivers who might not be appropriately monitoring for pedestrians.
- Take extra care and wear light clothing when walking at night.
- Stop driving if you see signs that your cognitive function or physical abilities are interfering with your ability to drive. And, if you have a parent who you know has reduced function that interferes with their ability to drive safely, strongly encourage them to be tested by their doctor. Since 2010, seniors represent the highest number of driver fatalities in Canada.This statistic has several implications. One reason for the higher fatalities is that seniors are more vulnerable to serious injury and death when involved in an accident. Further, it’s very difficult to give up the independence we experience through driving ourselves and as result, we sometimes ignore the signs that we should no longer be driving, such as difficulty controlling the steering wheel, multiple fender-benders, forgetfulness and/or confusion.
- Avoid driving during more dangerous conditions, such as at night or during storms.
How to avoid an Overuse Injury
Overuse injury involves muscle or joint injuries, such as stress fractures or tendinitis, which result from repetitive trauma. Overuse injury can be caused when we exercise too long or do too much of a particular type of activity, which can cause muscle strain and lead to overuse injury. Improper technique during exercise can also overload or strain muscles and cause overuse injury.
- Consult with your doctor before beginning a new activity or significantly increasing your exercise level. A higher risk of overuse injury is associated with some medical conditions as well as aging. Your doctor may have suggestions for making exercise or physical activity safer for you, given your general health and pre-existing conditions. For example, if you suffer from sciatica or lower back pain, your doctor or physiotherapist may advise against certain activities that can worsen your condition, and can recommend exercises to help alleviate the pain.
- Adjust your level of activity. As seniors, we need to accommodate the impact of aging and appropriately modify our exercise regime. Key steps to take to prevent overuse injury or other exercise-related injury are to: 1) pace yourself, and 2) increase your activity level gradually. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise or physical activity every day. You don’t have to exercise all at once, and it’s beneficial to include stretching at the end of your activity.
- Use proper form and appropriate gear. If you’ve never performed the activity before, consider getting training or lessons for proper form. Wear appropriate footwear for the activity and replace your shoes when the padding begins to wear out, which may be twice annually if you walk or run regularly. Also wear a proper helmet when biking and for other activities that have the potential for a head or brain injury.
- Cross-training. Perform a variety of low-impact activities that encourage the use of different muscles and prevent overloading of one muscle group.
- Strength-training. Incorporate strength training into your routine twice weekly, to strengthen your core, arms and legs.
- Take a break from activity for a while if you think you have an overuse injury. If this occurs, see your doctor and consider trying another activity for a while which uses a different muscle group than was injured.