TORONTO — 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 that has experts calling for more preventative education on the issue.
The data collected from participating hospitals across the country shows that of the roughly 138,000 people aged 65 and older who were hospitalized for injuries between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018, 81 per cent of them were hurt in a fall.
The CIHI said it chose to zero in on seniors to help educate the elderly 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, adding that in many cases the injuries that brought those patients to hospital were preventable.
One falls prevention expert who looked at 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."
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," he said.
There are a few key things seniors can do to prevent falls, Fernie said, and wearing shoes and boots with proper traction is chief among them. Be it icy winter or soggy spring, Canadians should check that their shoes still have functional treads.
"You wouldn't drive around with bald tires," he noted.
Seniors should also invest in a pair of running shoes to wear when they're walking around the house, because wood floors and tile do not mix well with socks and stockings, he said. Seniors should also be careful to make sure they're lifting their feet up when they walk, rather than shuffling around, which can lead to tripping or stumbling.
Another thing to add to the list of precautions is installing banisters on both sides of staircases in the home.
Seniors should also make an effort to use handrails in public, Fernie said, though he noted that those worried about germs may find the idea distasteful. To mitigate the ick factor, he suggested carrying around a little bottle of hand sanitizer to use periodically.
The elderly should also make sure that if they're getting up on a ladder — be it to fix something in the house or to clear out the eavestrough — someone is there to keep them steady.
Fernie said keeping such tips in mind should help prevent nasty falls that can lead to hip fractures, which are the most common result of an elderly person's fall, and concussions, which come in second.