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How to limit the complications of a fall, from Harvard Women’s Health Watch

February 2, 2009

About 35% of people over age 65 fall in their homes at least once each year. Most of the resulting injuries are minor, but falls can also cause major cuts, fractures, head trauma, and other injuries that may lead to hospitalization, disability, nursing home care, and premature death. Falls also have psychological consequences. Fear of falling and an associated general loss of confidence can result in depression, isolation, and a decline in physical function caused by lack of activity. There is no way to prevent all falls, so it’s important to limit their complications, reports the February issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

A major source of complications is lying on the floor for a long time after a fall, a risk that increases with age and declining muscle function. For older people in particular, it can result in pneumonia, pressure sores, dehydration, hypothermia, and even death. A new study shows that lying on the floor for a long time after falling is more common than previously thought among the “oldest old”—people ages 85 and over—as well as strongly associated with serious injuries, hospitalization, and nursing home care.

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