There was a time when it might have been laughable, a notorious commercial from the 90s where an alert company was called via pendant by a deeply distraught elderly lady in a thick Jersey accent, stating, she had fallen and could not get up. Of course, now we know that
1. these companies actually save lives every day, and
2. the root cause of why our lady was in distress, was due to a horrible and seriously painful hip fracture or shattered pelvis.
But why is it such a persistent problem and often one of the most dangerous and life-threatening problems our elderly loved ones? In many cases, mom or dad is usually living alone long after their spouse has passed on. They may be watching their pennies since that’s how they’re raised, they’re on a fixed income of social security and they’re not eating as well as they should or not taking the supplements they need because they forgot them… so the seeds of osteoporosis are planted there and quite possibly there are other contributing factors, such as Parkinson’s, persistent foot ailments, poor/bad vision, lightheadedness, circulatory ailments or just persistent injuries that take longer and longer to heal.. but not only is a hip fracture a serious injury in of itself.. it means that there’s already a whole host of issues present contributing to the fall.
Dr. Andrew Ow, a geriatrician at Drexel Medicine, goes on to talk about how a hip fracture is merely an indicator of a serious set of conditions that have led to the fall.
As you can see, the fall and resultant injury itself is only the tip of the iceberg for what it means to have a fall, but why is it so deadly for our seniors?
A fall is the start of a decline in health for the senior in question.
When a senior falls, they are usually bedridden for a number of weeks until their bones can heal, either that or they are confined to a wheelchair. This, in turn, lessens their ability to care for themselves and without mobility and exercise their decline becomes more pronounced, their bones and muscles atrophy and their ability to take on vital nutrients diminishes. An elderly person has to try very hard to want to come out of that wheelchair or bed.. and in most cases, the person never loses the ability to walk without aid, such as with a walker or cane. In some rare cases, the person does recover from a fall without any walking aids, but it is only with months of hard work in physical therapy.
If a senior falls alone without help, the results can be fatal.
The sad fact that without a pendant, or without home health, without friends or family or at least a friendly visitor from the community, a fall alone can be fatal because the senior is unable to get up on their own and they essentially remain glued to the floor by gravity. We’ve seen residents come to us that have been brought to us who have been spared in the nick of time because a neighbor noticed the piles of papers outside for a week and decided to call the police to do a wellness check. They had fallen in their own kitchen next to a freshly made meal they were unable to eat with a fridge full of food and a cellphone on a counter they could not get to while they slowly became more and more dehydrated. For some elderly people, the fall goes unnoticed and the senior’s death is only noted, tragically, after a great length of time.
If a break is bad enough, the bones may sever arteries.
Due to the nature of why people fall, certainly circulatory issues my one of them and it may be one of the contributing factors of the fall. If a person who has had a history of heart problems, either with stroke, heart disease, or clogged arteries.. they may be prescribed blood thinners that help with these ailments but also prevent the blood from clotting. If a person has a compound fracture (bones protruding outside the skin), or severs even a minor internal artery, they may bleed profusely without stopping, losing a very great amount of blood before any help arrives at all.
We’ve noted the reasons why a fall can be deadly, but how do we prevent this..? Well one of the reasons why we stress over and over, diet and exercise, diet and exercise, is because it is the one bit of preventative medicine we can do to make sure our residents are healthy enough to avoid falling. It leads to everything. Eating right gives the residents the building blocks for the muscles to become strong enough to support the weight of the residents more effectively, and the exercise provides the training needed for that support. With that in mind, our major goals and our focus for our care facilities is good food, activities, and physical therapy.. with medicine, medication can only relieve the symptoms of an ailment, with dedication, encouragement, good nutrition, and good exercise these can be a great step towards alleviating a number of the causes of the symptoms.