Seniors at Risk: Falls Lead to Injury and Long-Term Care

Recent falls by President Biden and Bruce Springsteen remind us that falls are a serious problem for older adults and that we need to take steps to prevent them. Taking proactive steps will reduce risk and even protect assets.

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Seniors at Risk: Falls Lead to Injury and Long-Term Care
8 Min Read June 7th, 2023

Falls have always been a concern for seniors and their families. Recently, President Biden (born in November of 1942) and rocker Bruce Springsteen (born September 1949) took falls. Falls for seniors are a big deal and lead to many health challenges.

Falls are a leading cause of injury and death among older adults. In fact, one in three adults over the age of 65 falls each year. 

The outcomes of falls can vary depending on the fall's severity and the individual's age and health. However, some common consequences of falls in seniors include:

  • Injuries: Falls can result in various injuries, including broken hips and other bones, head injuries, and bruises.
  • Disability: Falls can lead to disability, making it difficult for people to walk, get around, or perform activities of daily living.
  • Death: Falls can be fatal, especially in older adults.

Falls Lead Many Seniors to the ER

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 3 million older adults (aged 65 and older) are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries each year in the United States. Of these, about 800,000 are hospitalized, most often due to a head injury or hip fracture.

In 2020, an estimated 36 million falls among adults aged 65 and older. Falls were the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults. Over 36,000 people died, with over three million emergency department visits due to a fall. The economic cost of falls among older adults was estimated to be over $50 billion.

Many of these falls, directly and indirectly, lead to the individual needing long-term health care at home or in a facility. The financial impact of long-term care and the consequences on family members are substantial. 

Ignoring fall risk in seniors is dangerous for seniors and their families. 

Several factors can contribute to falls, including:

  • Age: The risk of falling increases with age.
  • Preexisting medical conditions: Conditions such as arthritis, vision problems, and balance problems can increase the risk of falling.
  • Medications: Some medications can cause side effects that can increase the risk of falling, such as drowsiness and dizziness.
  • Environmental hazards: Environmental hazards such as loose rugs, uneven surfaces, and poor lighting can increase the risk of falling.

Biden's Health

President Biden has been fairly open about his health; his doctor has released several reports on his medical history. The White House released a health summary for President Biden in November 2021, which lists the medical conditions he is being treated for but concluded that the President is "healthy, vigorous, and fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency."

According to these reports, Biden has some health conditions that could potentially contribute to falls, including:

  • Atrial fibrillation - a condition in which the heart's upper chambers beat irregularly. It can increase the risk of falls by making it more likely that a person will faint.
  • Peripheral neuropathy - a condition that damages the nerves in the hands and feet. It can cause numbness, tingling, and weakness in the extremities, making it more difficult to balance and walk.
  • Osteoarthritis - a condition that causes the joints to wear down over time. It can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints, making it more challenging to move around.
  • Fractured foot - In November 2020, Biden fractured his right foot while playing with his dog. This injury could still be causing some pain and stiffness, making it more difficult for him to walk.

It is important to note that these are just some of Biden's health conditions that have been released. Like anyone, as you get older, these health problems can become more problematic. It is also important to note that not everyone with these conditions will experience falls. However, these conditions increase the risk of falls and may contribute to Biden's falls.

Springsteen - An Active Senior

Bruce Springsteen has not publicly disclosed any health conditions, but he is 73 years old and has been active throughout his life. There are several possible explanations for his fall, including the fact he is 73 years old and trying to be as vigorous as he was when he was younger. However, aging itself is a fall risk.

Springsteen is not the only active senior, but some things can happen in older adults, even if they are relatively healthy, that can lead to falls. Dehydration can cause dizziness and lightheadedness, and some seniors fail to hydrate properly, like being active, like playing golf or doing other activities. 

Pre-existing medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis can increase the risk of falls. Some medications, such as sedatives and diuretics, can increase the risk of falls.

Environmental Factors 

One of the most common fall risks is environmental factors. While most seniors won't be running around a stage performing, a floor area could have obstructions. In Springsteen's case, the stage may have been slippery, or there may have been obstacles on the stage that Springsteen tripped over.

Here are some examples of environmental factors that can lead to falls in seniors:

  • Clutter: Clutter can create tripping hazards, especially in areas where people walk frequently, such as hallways and doorways.
  • Uneven surfaces: Uneven surfaces, such as loose rugs or uneven sidewalks, can cause someone to trip and fall.
  • Poor lighting: Poor lighting can make it difficult to see where they are going, increasing the risk of falling.
  • Wet or slippery surfaces: Wet or slippery surfaces, such as those found in bathrooms or kitchens, can also cause someone to slip and fall.
  • Stairs: Stairs can be a particular hazard for older adults, requiring more balance and coordination to climb safely.
  • Environmental hazards outside the home: Environmental hazards outside the home, such as uneven sidewalks, potholes, and icy walkways, can also pose a fall risk.

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one falling, speak with a doctor. They can help you assess your fall risk and develop a plan to prevent falls.

Steps to Reduce Fall Risk

Here are some tips for preventing falls:

  • Make sure your home is safe. Remove clutter, install grab bars, and use non-slip mats in high-traffic areas.
  • Wear shoes with good traction.
  • Exercise regularly to improve your balance and strength.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Manage chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • Don't drink alcohol or take sedatives before bed.
  • Ask for help when you need it.

Balance and Strength Training

Lora Stutzman, a physical therapist with the Johns Hopkins Rehabilitation Network, says that while it's impossible to completely prevent a fall, exercises focusing on balance and strength training can reduce the risk of falling.

These exercises can help improve balance and build strength to help prevent future falls.

Read here the exercises which can help reduce the risk of falls in older adults.

Dementia and Fall Risk

A study ​​published in the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy reports that those with mild cognitive impairment (early stage of dementia) have an increased risk of falling. The study showed that falls were reported in 52.6% and 51.4% of people with mild cognitive impairment, known as MCI, and mild Alzheimer's Disease, respectively. 

Attention to an individual's living environment and quality long-term health care at home (or in a facility) will reduce the fall risks. If President Biden and Bruce Springsteen can fall, anyone can, and being proactive with health and planning will reduce these risks, the financial impact of caregiving, and the consequences on loved ones. 

Those with Long-Term Care Insurance will have tax-free funds to pay for quality care options. However, simple preemptive steps to reduce fall risk for older adults should be taken immediately, even if they have LTC Insurance. Picking up clutter, like throw-rugs, can be an easy first step.

Considering the cost and impact of future long-term care should be part of a comprehensive retirement plan for younger adults.

Falls Lead to Long-Term Care

Falls, unfortunately, often trigger a chain of health complications, including long-term care. One of the most common complications of a fall is a fracture. Fractures can occur in any bone, but they are most common in the hip, wrist, and spine. Fractures can lead to reduced mobility, making it difficult for older adults to perform activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and eating. Reduced mobility can also lead to social isolation, as older adults may be less able to get out and about.

In addition to reduced mobility, fractures can lead to prolonged bed rest. Prolonged bed rest can contribute to several health problems, such as pressure ulcers, blood clots, and pneumonia. Pressure ulcers are sores that develop on the skin due to prolonged pressure. Blood clots can form in the legs and travel to the lungs, where they can cause a life-threatening condition called pulmonary embolism. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can be serious, especially in older adults.

The fear of subsequent falls can also lead to decreased physical activity. This is known as "fear avoidance." Fear-avoidance can lead to a vicious cycle of decreased mobility, further weakening of the muscles, and an increased risk of additional falls.

Falls can have a significant impact on the quality of life of older adults. They can lead to pain, disability, and dependence on others for care. Falls can also be expensive, requiring hospitalization, surgery, and rehabilitation.

Falls are a serious problem for older adults leading to health complications, decreased quality of life, and long-term care. The cost of long-term care is increasing dramatically. Are you prepared for the cost and burdens of aging?

You can only help make older adults as safe as they can be if they have not planned for long-term care. Avoiding falls will help. However, have you considered the impact of long-term care and the consequences of declining health and aging will have on your family and finances?

Planning is easy, but a plan should be implemented when you still enjoy good health, ideally in your 40s or 50s. For many, Long-Term Care Insurance is part of a comprehensive retirement plan. No, you can't prevent aging or falls; you can make your environment safer and prepared now for the cost and burdens of aging.

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About the Author

An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.

LTC News Contributor James Kelly

James Kelly

Contributor since August 21st, 2017

Editor's Note

Aging brings with it a host of challenges, ranging from physical changes to cognitive decline. One of the most significant risks that increase with age is the risk of falls. As we age, our bodies naturally lose muscle strength and bone density, our balance can become compromised, and reflexes might slow. These changes can significantly increase the likelihood of falls, which can have severe consequences for seniors, including fractures, head injuries, and reduced independence.

As we age, various factors such as chronic illness, accidents, mobility issues, dementia, and frailty may necessitate assistance with daily living activities or supervision. These factors heighten the risk of requiring long-term healthcare, which can substantially impact family dynamics and personal finances.

In the context of rapidly increasing long-term care costs across the nation, securing additional funds to pay for quality care is integral to achieving a successful retirement. Long-Term Care Insurance provides a critical safety net, supplying guaranteed, tax-free benefits that enable policyholders to maintain control and independence. This protection not only safeguards assets but also alleviates the potential stress on loved ones, contributing to a more secure and worry-free retirement. 

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