Injury is something that any of us can be prone to. But elderly individuals are more vulnerable to injuries, compared to younger adults and children. This is primarily due to the changes taking place in the body as a person moves towards old age. We may start to progressively lose our strength, flexibility, balance and stamina, making us more prone to accidents.
Immediate and quick response to any injuries or accidents in the elderly can help them recover better and faster. Plus, preventative techniques can ensure that their susceptibility to injuries also reduces considerably. If you are looking for professional training when it comes to first aid and common injuries, you can chat to your local Gold Coast First Aid Courses training team to get started.
In this article, we’ll explore the 4 most common injuries among the elderly and how family members can help their loved ones if they get hurt.
Category 1: Falling, tripping and slipping
As we age, our body’s ability to respond quickly to external stimuli begins to reduce. With slower physical reaction times and (sometimes) compromised mental faculties, it can be difficult to navigate the spaces around us. This is why older individuals become more vulnerable to injuries and accidents on rocky, slippery or unfamiliar terrain. They may trip, resulting in nasty falls. The slippery road can lead to accidents as they fall. If someone comes too close, too fast, they may be startled, resulting in them losing balance.
When the body doesn’t have the strength or balance to hold itself upright, then there’s very little the elderly individual can do to keep themselves from tripping, slipping or falling. Some of the conditions that can occur as a result of this type of injury are –
- Meniscus tear
- Achilles tendon rupture
- Gluteus Medius tear
- Hip Labral tear
Installing non-slippery floors in hallways, bathrooms and kitchens can prevent falls inside the house. You can also install bars on the wall for the elderly to hold when walking around the house. When heading out, the elderly should be provided with a walker or a walking stick which they can use to regain balance. Proper footwear must also be given, which is non-slippery, even-heeled and stable. Additionally, the elderly must be accompanied by a caregiver, especially when it’s dark or there’s too much traffic.
The elderly person must be encouraged to do balance exercises such as Yoga to help them gain stability, balance and flexibility, which can help them avoid some types of falls.
Category 2: Driving-related accidents
While some older individuals can boast of great eyesight, more often than not, many elderlies do use spectacles or have some form of eyesight problem. When driving, this can be particularly dangerous, not just to the elderly individual, but to others on the road as well. Their age-compromised eyesight and hearing may prevent them from seeing the road clearly or hearing other vehicles. Plus, their slower response rate may prevent them from quickly swerving to avoid oncoming traffic or other dangers on the road. Also, if the elderly individual suffers from physical or neurological conditions such as stiff knee or dementia, it could act up when behind the wheel, resulting in very serious accidents that can cause –
- Traumatic brain injury
- Multiple traumas
- Intracranial hemorrhage
…amongst others, to both the older individual and others on the road.
As a practice, it is best to encourage elderly individuals to not drive but to seek public transport such as buses, subway or cabs. A family member, friend or registered nurse can also be hired to drive the elderly person to their doctor’s appointments and other errands. The individual must also be advised to not take any medications before getting behind the wheel. Any stiffness or pain in the limbs/joints should be checked by a doctor so they don’t affect them during the drive.
The elderly person must have their eyes, ears and reflexes checked every few months, to determine the validity of their driver’s license. People diagnosed with dementia must be provided with a medical bracelet that can help others identify whether it’s safe to allow the individual to drive or not.
Category 3: Limb sprains, dislocations and fractures
When we’re older, our bones become weaker and our muscles lose their mass and strength. This can make it difficult for our musculoskeletal system to support the weight of our body. If the elderly person has arthritis or muscular dystrophy, these can further complicate the situation by adding to the risks of experiencing limb sprains, dislocations and fractures such as –
- Calf sprain
- Hamstring sprain
- Rotator cuff injury
- Wrist fracture
- Hip fracture
- Ankle fracture
- Pelvis fracture
- Rib fracture
- Vertebral fracture
- Patellar fracture
- …and more.
The elderly individual must be provided stable and safe shoes to wear, which help them keep their balance. A walking stick or walker can provide added stability. They must also be taken to a physiotherapist or occupational therapist to help them strengthen their limbs in case of weakness and loss of mobility. Nutritional supplements that are rich in calcium and Vitamin D must be provided daily to help them strengthen their bones and build muscle mass. The elderly person must also be encouraged to reduce their alcohol consumption to help them have greater control over their mobility.
Strength training is a must to ensure the body retains muscle mass and bone strength. The great news is that strength/weight training can begin at any age, under the guidance of a qualified trainer. The more strength training an elderly individual does, the fewer risks they will have of getting sprains, fractures and dislocations.
Category 4: Superficial and deep burns
The final major injury type that poses a risk to the elderly, is burns and scaling. As we get older, our skin loses its sensitivity to heat and cold. This can make it difficult for older people to judge if a vessel is too hot to touch or if a pack of ice cubes is too cold to hold with our bare hands. Both heat and cold – when severe – can result in skin burns.
Factors such as dementia, arthritis and slow response time can all make the elderly more vulnerable to situations where they may accidentally brush past, touch or hold a very hot/cold item and not be able to let go of it quickly enough to avoid burns. They might also engage in activities that can result in other types of burns, such as –
- Frostbite or sunburn when the elderly person steps out without proper clothing or skincare, in a very hot/cold environment.
- Friction burns when wearing ill-fitted clothes or when skin chafes against any dressing/bandage.
- Electrical burns when using electrical equipment.
- Chemical burns when handling medicines that shouldn’t mix.
Family/caregivers must provide gloves for their elderly loved ones to wear when handling cooking utensils and other hot/cold items. The equipment around the house should be replaced with heat/cold-safe equipment. A first aid kit should always be present at home and there should be a list of instructions for the older person to follow if they do get burnt. Medication must not be mixed or handled by the elderly without caregiver supervision (or outside a pharmacy). All electrical equipment must be carefully covered and not easily accessible, with safety notes placed around them. Phone numbers of the police, closest hospital and paramedics must be displayed in a prominent location, with a phone nearby.
Caregivers can put up sticky notes around the house, with information for the elderly person, about how to use specific items. For example, you can stick a note next to the stove, which says “Gets hot, use gloves.” Or “Wear a jacket before going out in the snow.”
While it may be difficult to make the living environment and outside world 100% safe for our elderly loved ones, we can definitely make them safer than they are. Follow the tips we’ve provided here and give your older loved ones an injury-free future.