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Falls are underrated health hazard, especially for the elderly

Falling accidents result in more emergency room visits than car accidents. Falls cause more lost days from work than any other type of job injury. They are the leading cause of injury for truck drivers.

For older Americans, falls are especially dangerous. A broken hip can literally be a death sentence. Each decade of age amplifies the risk. Each fall makes another fall more likely. And the CDC says head injuries from falls are rising among the elderly.

Head injuries and bone fractures are a serious risk when seniors fall

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a disturbing rise in brain injury among older Americans. The study found that 1 in 45 seniors over the age of 75 suffered a brain injury in 2013 resulting in emergency room treatment, hospitalization or death. That figure was substantially higher than it was in 2007.

Physicians and geriatric experts say that elderly persons are less likely to report falls because they fear losing their independence. But statistics show that one fall often begets another; each fall increase the risk of a fall that may result in a catastrophic injury, such as head trauma or hip fracture.

Reporting falls helps identify fall risk to reduce the risk of future harm. Seniors who are at risk of falling may benefit from canes, walkers and extra railings. Some who live on their own may need to move to assisted living. Some need closer supervision and assistance, such as a private nurse or nursing home care.

By the numbers

According to the CDC and the National Institute on Aging:

  • Slip-and-falls are the leading cause of occupational injury for workers age 55 and older.
  • One of every three persons over age 65 will experience a fall in a given year.
  • Each year 1.8 million people over age 65 receive emergency room treatment for falls.
  • Falls represent 40 percent of all nursing home admissions.
  • Falls are the second leading cause of spinal cord and brain injuries in seniors.

Is there a safety hazard or negligence?

While many falls occur in the home, elderly Americans have a higher risk of serious falling injuries everywhere they go -- in the workplace, in public space, on commercial properties, and in hospitals and nursing homes. Employers, care facilities and property owners have a duty to provide a safe environment free of falling hazards.

A frayed rug, a puddle of liquid, a parking lot pothole, a raised sidewalk or obstacles on the floor that may not injure a 25-year-old can present a real danger to an older person who has diminished vision, slower reflexes and brittle bones. 

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