The beginning of the fall season also serves as the kick-off for Fall Prevention Week, September 22 through 28, when Bayhealth physicians stress the importance of preventing falls, particularly for the elderly.
“Prevention is important,” said Stephen Manifold, MD, Medical Director of Orthopaedics at Bayhealth. “Falls are a leading cause of hip fractures in the elderly. These fractures take a long time to heal and recover from and studies show that there can also be a 10 to 30 percent mortality in the year following hip fracture.”
One out of every three seniors over the age of 65 falls each year. Many falls can be prevented by removing clutter and tripping hazards in the home, installing grab bars in bathrooms and handrails on stairs, making use of good lighting including night lights, and wearing supporting shoes.
Dr. Manifold emphasized that one of the goals of Bayhealth’s Hip Fracture program is to treat and heal the hip fracture. Janelle Hobbs, Bayhealth’s Orthopaedic Nurse Navigator, visits patients who have suffered a broken hip to monitor their care and also to teach them about safety and exercise to achieve that goal.
Brain and spine injuries are another potential serious consequence for seniors if they fall. Bayhealth Neurosurgeon James Mills, MD, has seen even minor falls cause serious injuries, even fatal injuries, when co-morbidities or anticoagulation (blood thinners) were involved. He emphasized that no fall in the elderly should be taken for granted. Especially if the person loses consciousness or is anti-coagulated, he or she should be evaluated.
“Compression fractures in the spine can occur, so any persistent, new back pain after a fall needs to be checked. Some of the brain injuries can develop slowly. So, a change in mental status, balance, behavior or stroke symptoms that occurs days, weeks and sometimes months after a fall needs to be evaluated.”
Dr. Mills added that there are good treatments for all of these injuries today. For some brain injuries, patients may only need to be monitored. Others may need surgery or a simple draining. And, more and more minimally invasive techniques are being developed.
Dr. Mills advised that those people who are on anticoagulants (Coumadin, Plavix are only two examples) have more cause for concern after a fall.
“If there is bruising on the body that you can see, it indicates that there is bruising inside the body that you do not see. If you fall and hit your head, a goose egg on the outside may indicate bruising inside the brain.”