Falls the main reason seniors head to hospital, CIHI injury report indicates

Some four in five injury hospitalizations involving seniors are because of a fall, according to newly released data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Falls 'the scourge of growing older' because they can lead to a litany of complications

Betsy Davis, a volunteer with Meals on Wheels, walks up the stairs to deliver food. Fall prevention experts encourage installing banisters on both sides of staircases. (Josh Galemore/Savannah Morning News/Associated Press)

Falls appear to be the leading cause of injuries that land seniors in hospital, according to newly released data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, prompting calls for more preventive education.

The data, collected from hospitals across the country, shows that of the roughly 138,000 people 65 and older who entered them for injuries between April 1, 2017, and March 31, 2018, 81 per cent were hurt in a fall.

The institute said it chose to zero in on older people to help educate them about the injuries most likely to affect them.

"We do have an aging population, so we really wanted to focus on what's happening to our seniors," said Nicholas Gnidziejko, manager of clinical administrative databases operations at the non-profit.

Fifty-one per cent of people admitted to hospital during the period analyzed were 65 or older, he noted.

Gnidziejko said that in many cases, the injuries that brought those patients to hospital were preventable.

One falls prevention expert who examined the data said falls are a particular problem for the elderly because they can lead to a litany of complications.

"Falls are the scourge of growing older," said Geoff Fernie, a senior scientist and falls prevention officer at the University Health Network and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

"If you get older and you get admitted to hospital, it doesn't take long before you can't get up. You don't have the strength, you don't have the muscle mass. You also become depressed and isolated, and your gut stops working."

Check your treads

The number of people injured or killed as a result of falls is likely underestimated because the falls themselves often aren't reported, he said.

"It's the pneumonia that they eventually die of, or the other complications."

Seniors in the small Ontario community of Ennismore follow a live stream of a ballet instructor in Toronto. Researchers hope initiatives like this can help seniors restore balance and prevent falls. (Havard Gould/CBC)

Seniors can do several things to prevent falls, Fernie said, notably:

  • Wearing shoes and boots with proper traction. Be it icy winter or soggy spring, Canadians should check their shoes still have functional treads. "You wouldn't drive around with bald tires," he said.
  • Investing in running shoes to wear when walking around the house, because wood floors and tile do not mix well with socks and stockings.
  • Lifting feet while walking rather than shuffling around, which can lead to tripping or stumbling.
  • Installing banisters on both sides of staircases in the home.
  • Using handrails in public. Fernie said anyone worried about germs should carry around a small bottle of hand sanitizer to use periodically.
  • If you need to climb a ladder — be it to fix something in the house or to clear out the eavestrough — have someone there to keep it steady.

Falls-prevention classes are offered to help seniors gain strength and restore their balance. In smaller communities in Ontario for instance, seniors can follow a live stream of a ballet instructor's exercise class. 

Participants may also learn how to get up from a fall, stair safety, healthy eating and overcome the fear of falling to gain confidence in their mobility.

The most common result of an elderly person's fall is a hip fracture, followed by a concussion, said Fernie.

With files from CBC News