Falls can be deadly for elderly

September 14, 2011 4:52:55 PM PDT
The death rate from falls for senior citizens has risen sharply in the past decade. Two in 10 older adults who fall are likely to die, and four in 10 will never recover to be fully independent again. But there are ways to protect your loved ones.

When Nancy Reagan fell last month, the arm that broke her fall may have saved her life. She was lucky. So was Mary Ann Palermo.

"I was climbing up the ladder, washing a window, and I had my foot in the sink and I had these little plastic things in there and so away I went. And down I went," Palermo said.

She was OK somehow. But this year, Palermo fell again as she got up from a couch near a marble fireplace.

"As I was going down I told God, I said, 'If you want me, go ahead, make it quick,' and I didn't even have a scratch or bruise from hitting that, but I had the broken hip," Palermo said.

This time, she needed a partial hip replacement and physical therapy. Some 18,000 adults die from complications of a fall. Many others never go back to their normal life.

"Forty percent unfortunately don't go back to living independently, and they end up in nursing homes or assisted care," Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. J. Barton Kendrick II said.

Why? Stress from the injury, stress from surgery and complications make a simple fall not so simple. One in three older adults will fall this year.

"They're life-changing injuries that occur," Dr. Kendrick said.

To avoid falls, here are a few tips: exercise can improve leg strength and balance; watch for medicines, such as those for blood pressure and heart ailments, that cause dizziness; update eyeglasses; add light in the home; and install grab bars to kitchens and bathrooms.

"And I won't climb anymore, no," Palermo said.

But Palermo can walk again, albeit with a new hip, and she's back doing things again with her granddaughter.

Older adults often fear broken bones and fractures, but it's the traumatic brain injury that causes almost half of the deaths from falls.

Load Comments