Sophia Loren was hospitalized after a fall. Why is falling so dangerous for seniors?

Falls are the number one cause of injury-related deaths, hospitalizations and ER visits in Canadian seniors.

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Why are falls so dangerous to seniors? Here's what you need to know. (Canva)
Why are falls so dangerous to seniors? Here's what you need to know. (Canva)

Italian actress Sophia Loren is recovering from emergency surgery after a fall, Reuters reported.

The 89-year-old Oscar winner fell in her home in Geneva, Switzerland, on Sunday and suffered a broken hip. Her spokesperson told Reuters the surgery "went well and now she needs to rest and everything will be resolved."

The BBC also added she "sustained several 'serious fractures' to different parts of her hip and femur," and that "both Loren's sons, Carlo and Edoardo Ponti, were at her bedside."

MILAN, ITALY - 2022/10/10: Italian actress Sophia Loren seen at the opening of her restaurant Sophia Loren Restaurant in Milan. (Photo by Mairo Cinquetti/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Italian actress Sophia Loren is recovering from an emergency surgery after a fall, Reuters reported. (Photo by Mairo Cinquetti/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) (SOPA Images via Getty Images)

After Loren made headlines, safety for seniors and injury prevention is top-of-mind, especially in Canada where falls are the top cause of injury-related deaths among older adults.

How often to Canadian seniors fall and who is at risk?

According to Public Health, about 20 to 30 per cent of seniors fall at least once each year in Canada.

Furthermore, falls account for 85 per cent of seniors' injury-related hospitalizations, and 95 per cent of all hip fractures in the country.

Public Health also notes the average senior is hospitalized for about 10 days longer for falls than any other cause, and even one-third of seniors are admitted to long-term care following that hospitalization.

"Falls can result in chronic pain, reduced mobility, loss of independence and even death," the federal agency warned.

People who are at high risk of falling, as measured by the American and British Geriatrics Societies, are those who have:

  • Had two or more falls within the last 12 months

  • Sought medical attention within 48 hours of an injury following a fall

  • Had difficulty with walking or balance

Finding Balance, a program with the University of Alberta, also has an online quiz assessment available to determine whether a person is at risk of falling.

Why are falls so dangerous for seniors?

Asian senior man falling on the ground with walker in living room at home. Elderly older mature male having an accident heart attack for emergency help support from hospital. Insurance health care.

The U.S. Centre for Disease Control estimates one out of five falls does cause a serious injury in seniors.

"These injuries can make it hard for a person to get around, do everyday activities, or live on their own," it said.

Common injuries include:

  • Broken bones, especially wrist, arm, ankle, and hip fractures

  • Head injuries, which "can be very serious," especially to those taking blood thinners

Developing a fear of falling, leading to less activity is also a harmful impact.

What causes seniors to fall?

Falls are the number one cause of injury-related deaths, hospitalizations and ER visits in Canadian seniors, according to injury prevention agency Parachute. In 2018, falls among older adults cost the healthcare system $5.6 billion – "nearly 20 per cent of the total cost of injury in Canada."

But what causes falling? The U.S. National Institute on Aging says many things, including:

  • Eyesight, hearing, and reflex problems

  • Diabetes, heart disease, or problems with thyroid, nerves, feet, or blood vessels that impact balance

  • Conditions that cause rushed movement to the bathroom, such as incontinence

  • Mild cognitive impairment or certain types of dementia

  • Age-related loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia), problems with balance and gait, or postural hypotension

  • Foot problems that cause pain, and unsafe footwear such as backless shoes or high heels

  • Medications with side effects such as dizziness or confusion

  • Safety hazards in the home or community environment

How can the elderly prevent falling?

Asian senior or elderly old lady woman patient use toilet bathroom handle security in nursing hospital ward : healthy strong medical concept.
There are steps seniors and caregivers can take to prevent falling and injury. (Getty) (sasirin pamai via Getty Images)

According to Parachute, a fall can have "a devastating and lasting impact on a person," as it can lead to a reduced quality of life — even without injury. "A fall can cause an older adult to lose confidence and reduce their activities," the research agency explained.

There are steps Canadians can take to prevent falling, outside and inside of the home.

Parachute said these strategies, assessed by Public Health and Finding Balance, are key in prevention generally:

  • Exercise: challenging your balance and building strength

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Taking your time — don't rush

  • Good nutrition and hydration

  • Getting your sight and hearing checked regularly

  • Managing medications and reviewing them regularly with your pharmacist or doctor

  • Wearing well-fitting, sturdy shoes

  • Considering using a cane or other mobility device if needed

  • Maintaining proper use of eyeglasses and hearing aids

Inside the home, there are certain environmental factors that can be changed to help prevent a fall. Those include, according to Parachute:

  • Proper lighting in hallways, stairs and walkways, the bedroom and bathrooms

  • Keeping stairs free of clutter, and exterior stairs and walkways free of clutter, ice or snow

  • Installing handrails along stairs and safety grab bars in the bathroom

  • Checking your home for slipping and tripping hazards, and using non-slip mats

  • Having regularly used items within reach

Finding Balance also has resources available to caregivers of seniors who might be at risk, on how to help prevent falling and injury.

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