How Cognitive Impairment Affects Fall Risk

Statistics concerning the elderly and falls are staggering.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-fourth of the American population aged 65 and older falls each year. It is mind-boggling to realize that every 11 seconds, somewhere an older person is arriving at an emergency room for treatment due to a fall. Nearly every 20 minutes, an older adult dies because he or she fell.

The falls that happen to people over 65 accounts for more than 800,000 hospitalizations and over 27,000 deaths annually. Seventy-five percent of the $50 billion spent on the cost of these injuries is taken care of through Medicare. As early as next year, that financial toll is expected to rise to $67.7 billion due to more people reaching that age demographic.

Lowered Cognitive Function, Higher Fall Risk

Older adults experience some changes in cognitive function as part of the normal aging process. Usually, these changes are not severe enough to cause any major problems and the people who experience them make accommodations. Unfortunately, there are many who experience more dramatic changes and for those individuals, falling becomes an even greater risk.

When a person’s cognitive abilities are impaired to the point where he or she has trouble learning new things, concentrating, or remembering, serious problems develop. Losing the ability to make decisions about everyday activities such as self-care, taking medications, handling finances or going to appointments is a sign of substantial cognitive impairment.

Lowered cognitive function can result in lowered physical activity and depression. Isolation and feelings of helplessness are also frequently present in these conditions. The idea of falling, which plagues many older adults also contributes to inactivity and further physical decline.

All of these factors can increase a person’s risk of falling. As physical health declines, the risk of falling rises. Mental health has a direct impact on physical health for elders. Additionally, those with cognitive impairment are up to two or three times more likely to fall than individuals without cognitive impairment.

Creating a Safe Environment

There are measures that can be taken to minimize fall risk due to environmental factors. While creating a safe home environment may not eliminate the possibility of falling, it can help lower the risk due to unsafe conditions. Even minor changes can make a big difference when it comes to making the home a safer place.

Making sure the home is well lit, especially in high traffic areas is important. Dark hallways or stairways can increase the risk of falling. Electrical cords should be out of the way and walkways should be kept clear of obstacles. Something as minor as a piece of clothing or shoe can pose a falling hazard for an elderly person, particularly if he or she is cognitively impaired. It is important to understand that seniors with dementia or another form of cognitive impairment may not pay attention to those things which could cause them to fall.

The bathroom can be a very dangerous place for slips and falls at any age. For seniors, make sure any rugs on the floor are secure and slip-proof. The shower or bathtub should have a non-slip mat or some other method of making sure no one will slip. Grip bars to hold onto while entering or exiting the shower or bathtub are also important.

There are resources available for home audits. A home audit can identify those areas which could be detrimental to the health of a senior. It also provides suggestions on what measures can be taken to rectify the problem areas. Checklists highlighting potential risks are available online.

Addressing Health Issues

Mental and physical health are important in lowering the risk of falling. Keeping up with medications and understanding their side effects can help too. Some medications may cause dizziness; others may cause drowsiness. Knowing the side effects gives you an opportunity to adjust or, make accommodations as necessary.

Losing strength and balance increases the risk of falling; cognitive impairment only adds to the equation. It creates deficiencies in a person’s ability to pay attention to things, switches between tasks and ignores irrelevant information. This, along with poor physical health, can leave a person more vulnerable to falling. Exercise, gait training, and balance exercises can help lower the risk.

Bending over to pick up a piece of paper from the floor could put a physically weak person off-center and cause him or her to topple over. A person who knows their limitations may not be so inclined to pick up the paper and will instead choose to ask someone else to do it, or if in good physical condition, may pick it up without losing balance.

There are many reasons why senior citizens are more prone to falling and becoming injured or dying as a result. We may not be able to prevent all falls; however, there are things we can do to lower the risks. Creating a safe home environment, staying physically fit and addressing health issues are among the most important.

At About Care Home Care, we provide excellent, professional in-home care. You or your loved one will have peace of mind knowing that your caregiver is a highly trained professional with years of experience. Call us today to find out more about what we have to offer at About Care Home Care.

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