Seniors' Falling Injuries Are Preventable
Eleanor Kusel never gave much consideration to the bumps in the sidewalks or
the rugs lying on the floor of her apartment. But after the 75-year-old San
Franciscan fell and fractured her pelvis while getting out of a car, she began
to notice the many hazards that could cause her to fall again.
"I never thought about it until this happened," Kusel said of her
Kusel is not alone. One out of every three Americans 65 years and older
falls at least once a year, with 10 percent fracturing a bone, dislocating a
joint or incurring some other serious injury, said Dr. Mary Tinetti, Chief of
Geriatrics at the Yale University School of Medicine.
After three months of bed rest and therapy, Kusel is gradually moving back
into her daily routine. She's resumed her volunteer work at a local hospital
and is once again making her way around town.
But she may be one of the luckier ones. Nearly one-half of the older
Americans who incur a serious injury never fully recover and many lose their
ability to function independently for the rest of their lives, said Dr. Bree
Johnston, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of
California, San Francisco's department of geriatrics. A good proportion end up
in nursing homes, making falls and the injuries that result one of the most
substantial health threats facing older Americans.
The problem could be even more pressing: A study published in May 1999 in
the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that falling
injuries among the elderly are on the rise.
Finding a Cause
While common sense dictates that falling accidents are the result of
household hazards such as slippery bathroom floors or poorly lit stairwells,
that's not what some researchers have found.
In a recent study, Yale University researchers identified hazards in the
homes of 1,100 people who were 72 years or older. After following the study
participants for three years, the researchers compared the number of falls with
the kinds of household hazards they initially identified. The result: household
hazards did not affect the number of falls people had.
"We were quite surprised because this is counter to conventional
wisdom," said Dr. Thomas Gill, associate professor of medicine at the Yale
University School of Medicine, who led the study.
Instead, a person's health may have more to do with how frequently they fall
and injure themselves, he said. Weak leg muscles, poor vision and medications
that compromise balance may put elderly people at risk for falling. People
should ask their doctors about the possibility of lowering the dosage of
certain daily medications -- such as sleeping pills, antidepressants and blood
pressure medications that could impair a person's sense of balance -- or
eliminating them completely.
Gill presented his findings in May 1999 at the annual meeting of the
American Geriatric Society. The study is currently under review for