Written by Joe Fleming
Every year, millions of seniors are sent to the emergency room. Of those millions, nearly 30 percent are there to be treated for some kind of injury.
While often necessary, these trips can be traumatic and often cause seniors a lot of extra stress. The first step to avoiding them is to understand the most common injuries that affect elderly adults.
Listed below are four injuries that often send seniors to the emergency room, along with tips on how to prevent them.
Fractures are highly common in seniors. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that seniors lose bone density as they age. This makes their bones more fragile and prone to fractures.
Fractures, especially hip fractures, are often the result of a fall. To prevent them, one of the first things you can do is invest in tools that reduce the risk of slipping and falling. Good ones to start with include:
- Grab bars and handrails
- A shower chair for the bathroom
- Walkers and canes
- Stair and porch lifts
To decrease the risk of fractures, it’s also important to make sure seniors are getting plenty of vitamin D and calcium. Seniors should exercise regularly to strengthen their bones and improve their balance, too, and also avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption (both of these weaken the bones).
- Wrist and Ankle Sprains
Many falls can result in wrist or ankle sprains. Over time, the tissues of the joints wear down in seniors and become less flexible, which increase their risk of a sprain. Wrist sprains are often caused when someone throws out their hand to catch themselves when they fall. Ankle sprains, on the other hand, can occur from falls and from simple actions like standing up out of a bed or chair.
Many of the precautions mentioned for preventing fractures are also applicable for preventing ankle and wrist sprains. Increasing consumption of vitamins and minerals(in the form of a multivitamin), as well as proteolytic enzymes, can help reduce inflammation and speed up the body’s healing process in the event that a sprain does occur.
- Head Trauma
Head trauma is another common injury among seniors. In fact, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) account for approximately 80,000 emergency room visits each year.
Falls cause most TBIs in seniors (about 50 percent). This is because an older adult’s reflexes are often slower and they often lack muscle strength. Both factors limit seniors’ ability to catch themselves when they fall and leave them vulnerable to trauma when their head hits the floor or another object like a cabinet or stair.
Car accidents are the second most common cause of TBIs, accounting for about nine percent.
One of the best ways to prevent head trauma in seniors is to get rid of clutter and objects like loose rugs that could serve as a tripping hazard. It’s especially important to get rid of these items near stairways and sharp-edged pieces of furniture.
Arranging transportation for seniors who are no longer competent drivers is also a good step to decrease their risk of sustaining a TBI while behind the wheel.
- Shoulder Dislocations
Shoulder dislocations can be caused by a number of issues, including falling on an outstretched arm, repetitive use from activities like tennis or golf, and overextending when reaching for an object. It’s also possible for seniors to sustain a shoulder dislocation when someone is pulling on their arm to help them stand up.
To prevent shoulder dislocations, seniors should work on improving the range of motion and mobility of their shoulder. They should also work to strengthen the muscles of the shoulder joint to help protect it from injuries.
Rearranging cabinets can be helpful, too, in preventing seniors from having to overexert themselves when reaching for objects. Caregivers should also exercise caution when helping seniors up to avoid accidental dislocations.
When it comes to keeping seniors safe and happy in their homes, injury prevention should be a top priority. Taking simple steps to improve stability and minimize accident risk can make a huge difference and give seniors (and their caregivers) peace of mind.