Falls are not inevitable for older adults

portrait of an older woman

A survey of residential care facilities has uncovered several risk factors for falls, one of the leading causes of injury-related death for older adults in the US.

Residential care facilities are different from nursing homes in that the seniors who live in them may require less help in everyday living.

The survey shows that those most at risk for falls were women in need of assistance with at least one activity of daily living (e.g. dressing, walking) and those living in larger facilities.

“The fact that we found approximately 15 percent of people in these facilities suffering an injurious fall is a serious issue, and it is a story that needed to be told,” says Samuel D. Towne Jr of the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, who led the study. “The 15 percent who fell doesn’t even account for falls that were not reported, or falls that didn’t lead to injury.”

[Older African Americans suffer from fewer falls]

More than 700,000 US adults live in residential care facilities, which means that injurious falls may affect more than 100,000 people a year in them. Towne’s study, published in the Journal of Aging and Health, found that African-American adults had the lowest rates of injurious falls compared to all other racial groups, at 5.5 percent. White adults had a rate of about 15.5 percent, and Asian adults a rate of 11 percent.

“It’s not something that was surprising nationally,” Towne says. “When you start to think of falls or fall-related hospitalizations, it is a common finding that white or Caucasian older adults, in particular women, do suffer a large proportion of falls. More research is needed on that.”

Another important risk factor the study found was that the size of the facility was associated with a large variation in fall rates. Small or medium facilities (4 to 25 beds) had falls at 11 percent and large or extra large (26 to over 100 beds) reached almost 16 percent. As of yet, the reasons are not clear.

Falls are sometimes assumed to be a part of aging, but Towne stresses that many falls are preventable.

“There are many fall prevention programs out in the community, and many of which focus on environmental aspects such as installing grab bars in bathrooms, ensuring lighting in restrooms, and so forth,” Towne says. “Lessons learned from these and other interventions may help inform targeted interventions in residential care facilities, while understanding that different settings may require different approaches.

“The take home I would hope older adults would get from this study is that falls are not inevitable.”

Source: Texas A&M University

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