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Prevention of Injuries for the Elderly

Older people may remember the smash-hit musical The Sound of Music, which featured the song These are a Few of My Favourite Things.  It was famously rewritten to pay homage to growing old gracefully:

Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting

Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings

Bundles of magazines tied up in string

These are a few of my favourite things

Cadillacs and cataracts and hearing aids and glasses

Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses

Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings

These are a few of my favourite things

When the pipes leak, when the bones creak, when the knees go bad

I simply remember my favourite things, and then I don’t feel so bad

While the lyrics are rather apt as we age, the truth is that injuries to the elderly are increasing in frequency – especially as more people live for longer.

Since it’s Prevention of Injuries Month, in this article we take a look at the 4 most prevalent types of injury in the elderly, how to prevent them, and how to get help if you or a family member succumbs to one or more of them.

1. Bone-related injuries

These are the most common injuries in the elderly. A recent study has shown that 1 in 4 South Africans over the age of 65 is likely to have an injury related to a fall.

Bones can weaken and become brittle as we get older, so it’s important to keep them in good health. Slips and falls related to using the bath, shower, escalators, lifts, or walking on uneven surfaces, can cause severe injury. The elderly should be encouraged to avoid using uncomfortable shoes or flip flops that can be slippery when wet. If an elder is unsteady and needs some assistance when walking, a walking device can be of use to help with balance.

Women who take hormone replacement therapy should take extra care to increase their calcium intake, as HRT has been known to affect bone density. A diet of calcium rich food such as milk, yoghurt, cheese, and green leafy vegetables should be encouraged. Exercise has been shown to slow down the effects of osteoporosis.

If your elderly family member suffers from a bone injury such as a fracture or a dislocation, it’s very important to spend time with them as they are often bed-bound after such injuries and can get lonely and feel isolated and frustrated.

2. Brain-related injuries

The brain is particularly susceptible to injury as we age. Apart from concussion and bleeding after a nasty fall, the aged are also prone to dementia brought about by diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Research has shown that 5-8% of people over the age of 65 are likely to develop some form of dementia, a statistic that doubles for every 5 years of age.

It’s important for people to remain brain-active as they age, especially after they retire. Doing crossword puzzles, starting a new short course or even a degree, singing in a choir and regular exercise within a group setting have all been shown to help people keep their brains active. It is also important to have a purpose and to set goals as we age, so try to help your elderly family member stay engaged and active.

3. Blood-related injuries

The risk of heart attack and stroke increases as we age. Bruising also becomes more frequent as the blood vessels under thinning skin can burst more easily.

Moderate exercise for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, is recommended by doctors to strengthen blood vessels and keep the heart in good shape. Don’t overdo it, be cautious and exercise in moderation. In addition, avoid deep fried and fatty foods, have more fruit and vegetables and try to replace fizzy, sugar-laden drinks with water.

4. Burn-related injuries

The elderly are more prone to burns as they can become more forgetful and may leave their stove on which can cause burns to their thinning skin or even a fire if left on for long durations. Severe complications from burns can arise such as infection and injury to the affected area and even immobility. Respiratory complications can occur in the event of a fire due to smoke inhalation.

You can educate an elder on what to do in the event of a fire and always remind them to check if the stove or iron is switched off.

If you feel that an elder you know maybe unable to manage activities of daily living and can be hazardous to themselves a decision should be taken by the family to have them moved to an assisted living unit where there is help available to them, especially when handling dangerous appliances. Always do this with love and respect. Talk to your doctor about your options.

One thing’s for sure: we are all going to get old. Always remember to treat an older person with respect and dignity – the same way you would want to be treated.

For more information please contact:

TAFTA: Care of the Aged
Telephone: +27 31 332 3721
Email: info@tafta.org.za

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.