Falls among elderly people may cause restricted activity, soft-tissue injuries or fractures. Many, in fact, don't survive a fall. Statistics indicate that the sixth leading cause of death among the elderly is injuries sustained in falls.
Many studies show that the older a person gets, the chances of experiencing fall increases. One study found that "30 percent of persons over the age of 65 fall each year. The rate increases to 40 percent among those over the age of 80."California physician Laurence Rubenstein says that "elderly people most at risk for falling are those with hip weaknesses, with poor balance or who are receiving four or more medications." He found that in a home-care facility setting, patients with none of these risk factors had a 12 percent chance of a fall, while every patient with all three of these risk factors fell at least once during that year.
Another study conducted by Dr. Mary E. Tinetti found the following as risk factors for falling:
- Use of sedatives.
- Cognitive impairment.
- Lower extremity disability.
- Foot problems.
- Balance-and-gait abnormalities.
As the number of risk factors increased, the percent that actually fell increased accordingly.
Most of the falls involving the elderly occur in the home. Environmental hazards, such as stairs and objects left on the floor, contributed to almost half of the home accidents. The "home" means the place they actually live, whether it be a nursing home, with a family member, etc. This seems logical since falls happen where most of the time was spent - the home.
Certain conditions increase the chance of slippage - such as linoleum floors, wet concrete, water on floors, waxed floors, greasy floors, cluttered stairs and darkened walkways. According to an article in Professional Safety, most slips and falls happen when the leading foot comes down heel first and slips out in the walking direction. We tend to walk that way (heel down first) whenever in a hurry.
Another factor involves the "friction coefficient." Researchers reporting in Professional Safety determined that a friction factor of .3 to .35 increases the risk of slippage. The National Bureau of Standards estimated that a friction coefficient should be .5 in the workplace. For example, smooth, finished concrete covered by water from rain, a vinyl surface or other smooth floor covering has a friction of .3. Any surface with grease on it will have a factor of .2.
If hazardous conditions could be removed, a large number of injuries could be prevented. Examples include keeping stairs clean, having well-lighted walkways, wearing the right king of shoes, using carpet instead of linoleum and keeping floors clean of clutter and grease. Worksite-employee education would be beneficial and would have a carryover value in the home.
OSHA, which concerns itself with worksite employee safety and health, says that if companies would educate and would advocate safety rules, 3,800 to 7,700 injuries a year could be prevented and 10 to 15 lives spared from falls while on the job.