woman outside in winter

Amid Winter Wonderland, Older People Are Prone to Falls This Season

As the year rolls to December, most Utah people are itching to officially welcome the winter season. That includes prepping for the holidays: shopping, cleaning the home, and planning dinners because of the pandemic.

Since temperatures can drastically fall in the state, homeowners are cleaning the fireplaces or improving their homes’ insulation. Homeowners, though, need to add one more to-do: call snow removal services. It is also the season of fall, putting the lives of older people at great risk.

The Rate of Falls among the Older Population

Older people are prone to falling. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 25% of Americans 65 years old and above fall annually. Every 11 seconds, one senior with a fall injury ends up in the emergency room, while one dies every 19 minutes.

A fall is also one of the leading causes of non-fatal injury that leads to hospital admissions among seniors. It is also the primary reason for death due to injuries within this group.

However, some studies show that while falls can happen anytime, their rate can fluctuate depending on the season. A 2017 study in Public Health Reports revealed that it could spike during winter.

The research conducted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, looked into ER visits within five years and the adverse weather events in the same period.

Based on their analysis, the rate of falls was higher during the winter months. In a five-year period, they recorded at least 15 high-fall days. Older adults, particularly those between 55 and 64, were also twice as likely to be at the ER for a fall-related injury.

Meanwhile, a 2000 research concluded similarly. In the population-based cohort study involving people at least 65 years old, at least 10,000 fall-related fractures had been identified.

The risk of falling was higher from October to March among patients from 65 years old and above. Arm fractures were more common among those between 65 and 79 years old. The elderly with ages 80 and above usually suffered from hip fractures.

What Makes Falling Risky for Older People

senior in bed

Falling doesn’t discriminate, and the effects can be detrimental on the person regardless of their age. However, the percentage is often disproportionately higher among the older population for these reasons:

1. Aging Changes Gait, Balance, and Flexibility

Aging increases the odds of arthritis or inflammation that impacts the joints, especially those found in the knees, hips, and ankles. According to the CDC, the disease’s prevalence among 65-year-olds and above is high at 49.6%.

Arthritis can already change a person’s gait as a way to cope with inflammation and pain. Unfortunately, winter can make the symptoms worse for the disease. It could then further make walking difficult for older people.

Aging may also affect flexibility. As a person ages, the joints can naturally stiffen, or the amount of water in the muscles and spine decreases. All these result in a more limited range of motion, altering an older person’s gait, balance, and speed.

2. Falls Can Lead to Injuries to the Brain and Spine

Falling can already increase the risk of developing traumatic brain injury (TBI), but it may be especially life-threatening for older people. They are less likely to recover from it.

Moreover, when they fall, seniors have a higher chance of experiencing bleeding in the brain. This is because the blood vessels in the organ become more fragile due to aging.

This group is also more prone to spinal cord injuries. A minor fall for the young may be severe for older people since their spine is more brittle. It could break, causing pain.

3. Many Seniors Are Still Working

The Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that at least 19% of American seniors are still part of the workforce either by necessity or choice. By 2022, the rate will increase to 22%.

Many seniors, therefore, need to go out often to fulfill their jobs. The more time they spend outdoors, however, the higher are their chances of falling.

In Utah, older adults account for at least 7% of the population, but their group’s number has been increasing over the years. The rate of severe injuries to fall among the group rises.

Because of its impact on the quality of life, every household with a senior needs to be more cautious during winter and prevent the risk of falling through options like snow removal on pavements and sidewalks.

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