Anatomy of a Fall: What Really Happens to the Elderly

We hear a lot about how dangerous falls are for elderly Americans, especially those living alone. The numbers are particularly harsh when it comes to hip fractures – 90 percent are caused by falls, and 250,000 Americans suffer one each year. They’re the leading fall-related injury causing hospitalization, and recovery is long and costly. But do we really understand the true ramifications of falls, and what they mean for their victims? To get an idea, let’s take a look at what happens in the minutes, hours, days and even months after a fall.

Minutes Later

  • Within 30 to 60 minutes, muscle cell breakdown begins

Days Later

  • 5 percent muscle strength is lost every day
  • Bed rest causes lower blood oxygen and plasma, in turn leading to dizziness
  • Muscle spasms and pain, especially with spine injuries

Months Later

  • 25 percent of elderly people with a hip fracture die six months after the injury
  • One in four people with a hip fracture must live in a nursing home for a year
  • Balance and stability is often permanently affected
  • Depression and dementia can result
  • May need a wheelchair or walker permanently
  • Fear of falling makes them more prone to repeats – half will fall again within a year

Falls are scary, but prevention is real. You can take steps to prevent yourself or a loved one from taking a fall that could change your life. Falls are the #1 reason for emergency room visits among those 65 and over – and there is no need to be a statistic. Fall-proof the home, consider a monitoring device, carefully manage medications to prevent side effects, and exercise to improve strength and balance. Studies show that older adults who exercise are nearly 40 percent less likely to be injured in a fall compared to elderly people who do not get exercise. Any movement helps – start small and build up! And if you do fall, know what to do to stay safe and minimize injury. Be smart, and take control of your health to maintain your independence.