Vital Signs

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G e ri at ri c s Preventing FALLS “Falls are very common among the elderly, and broken hips from these falls are a leading cause of death or significant functional decline in people over the age of 65.” 1 out of 3 For a significant portion of the population, staying healthy isn’t just a matter of exercising and eating right; it’s also making sure the home environment is free from any hazards that can increase the likelihood of a fall. adults age 65 and older falls each year $19,440 Total average healthcare cost of a fall injury of people 72 and older Over 1/3 of the elderly required hospital admission following a bathroom incident 81 % of fall deaths were among adults 65 and older UCLAHEALTH.ORG 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631) “Falls are very common among the elderly, and broken hips from these falls are a leading cause of death or significant functional decline in people over the age of 65,” says Grace Chen, MD, a geriatric medicine specialist at UCLA. “It’s important to make the home as fall-proof as possible to enable older adults to live there safely for as long as possible.” Along with the obvious injury risk of a fall — particularly among more frail elderly individuals — each fall increases the risk of a recurrence, explains Trena Carpenter, PT, an inpatient clinical supervisor with UCLA Health’s Department of Rehabilitation Services. “People will fall once or twice in a year, and then suddenly it’s three, four, five times a year, and the problem continues to get worse if it isn’t addressed,” she says. It’s not only the elderly who are at risk, Carpenter notes. Anyone who has been sick or hospitalized for surgery can suffer from short-term weakness or pain that can affect movement and/or cause balance problems. Certain medications can produce dizziness. Other risk factors include dehydration or electrolyte imbalance from an illness. But the aging process in itself is reason to be concerned and to exercise precaution. “As people age and notice that they have increased difficulty with their gait, they should be paying more attention to this,” says Dr. Chen. “Most seniors have lived in their homes for such a long time that they may not realize that certain things are now hazards or that they can make improvements to ensure their safety.”