Falls among seniors: A major health concern in Canada

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Falls among seniors: A major health concern in Canada

It can happen in an instant. Someone reaches for a walker or chair that’s too far from the bed, or loses their balance negotiating a step. This year in Canada alone, more than one-third of seniors will experience a fall, making it the leading cause of injury among individuals age 65 and older.

“Our data provides insight on this challenge, which persists across the health system,” says Jeremy Veillard, the vice president of Research and Analysis at CIHI. “For example, in 2012–2013, Canadian seniors experienced almost 85,000 fall-related hospitalizations, 8% of which resulted in an in-hospital death.”

A major health concern 

Those numbers, combined with an aging population, make this issue a major health concern in Canada.

It’s a concern borne not only by the patients but also by their families, who often witness their loved ones suffer devastating physical and psychological effects after a fall, including disability, reduced quality of life, and even death.

This can be the case when a resident in a long-term care facility or nursing home, or someone in their own home, reaches out for a chair or walker and miscalculates, resulting in a fall. By the time nursing staff or a family member finds them, it can be too late. 

Sobering facts 

With Canadian Patient Safety Week wrapping up, it’s a sobering reminder that there is no time like the present to think about the impact of falls and prevention strategies for falls among seniors.

Falls occur across the continuum of care, from hospitals and long-term care facilities to the home: a full 50% of fall-related hospitalizations among seniors occur as a result of falls in the home.

While the percentage of home care and continuing care clients at risk of falls varies across jurisdictions, the fact remains that seniors who are hospitalized from a fall are 4 times more likely to spend time in alternate level of care than seniors whose hospitalization is not fall-related.

A new report, Preventing Falls: From Evidence to Improvement in Canadian Health Care , takes a closer look at falls and falls prevention in acute care, long-term care and home care settings.

The report is a joint effort between CIHI, Accreditation Canada and the Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI). 

Falls prevention

Given the data about falls among seniors and the aging population, these 3 organizations are working to improve falls prevention. Some of the initiatives driving improvements include

  • Accreditation Canada’s falls prevention strategy and home safety risk assessment, required in all accredited organizations
  • CIHI’s ongoing collection and reporting of falls data, to better inform future prevention efforts
  • CPSI’s Falls Prevention and Injury Reduction kit, which includes strategies, webinars and an online reporting system.

A powerful predictor: Falls lead to falls

It’s a sad fact that the most powerful predictor of a fall among seniors in home and continuing care settings is a history of falling.

Those who fall are simply at higher risk for future falls and injury. And for those seniors who do experience a fall, the consequences can be life-changing.

When you consider that 15% of fall-related hospitalizations that occur at home result in a discharge to continuing care, the potentially life-changing consequences of a fall become strikingly clear.

Falls also cause the majority of fractures in seniors, with hip fractures being the most common serious injury. Close to half of all those who fall and fracture their hips will never functionally walk again, and 1 in 5 will die within 6 months.

Just a few reasons to learn more about what we can do to help prevent falls among seniors.