By Bradley Bouzane, Postmedia News
An aging population that is remaining active is behind an increase in Canada in serious falls by seniors.
Dr. Avery Nathens, director of trauma at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, also notes the severity of injuries has also spiked.
He said the findings of a report from the Canadian Institute of Health Information -- which blames falls for 71 per cent of all hospitalizations among Ontario seniors -- is indicative of the times.
The report, released Tuesday, found a 16-per-cent increase in severe injuries among seniors after falls, in the past five years, which Nathens attributes to two things.
"There's obviously a greater proportion of elderly in the population, so there's a higher risk as a result of that, but the elderly are becoming more active than they were in the past," Nathens said Tuesday.
"Now that our ability to provide care for heart disease, lung disease and other things is so advanced, these people are living longer and having a healthier life as they get older. For that reason, they're engaging in riskier activities that put them at risk for falls.
"What's novel in this report is that they're not only having hip fractures, but they're having severe head and spine injuries, as well, as a result of their falls."
The report says more than 125,000 hospitalizations were linked to falls by seniors between 2004 and 2008, with about 3,800 of those cases being classified as "severe injury," which required the patient to be admitted.
Nathens said the most common thing seen by specialists at St. Michael's is bleeding around the brain in seniors after they fall. He said while a standard fall would not produce the same result in a younger individual, a number of factors -- including the use of certain medications, such as blood thinners -- make many seniors more susceptible to bleeding near the brain.
Nathens estimates seniors account for about 30 to 40 per cent of all trauma-specific patients at St. Michael's, and he does not expect that figure to decrease as the population ages and life expectancies increase.
The report offers some recommendations to reduce falls, such as cutting down on clutter in the home -- where 57 per cent of falls recorded for the CIHI report occurred -- and improving lighting.
Nathens said falls will continue to play a major role in the health of seniors, not only in Ontario, where the report focused, but in all of North America.
"We're seeing a lot of elderly people doing things they never used to do in the past," he said. "I think it's important that everyone understands the limitations."
Nathens said more counselling is needed when medications are provided for many health conditions that might impair balance, vision and other factors of serious falls.
"I don't believe this will improve, and I think it will get worse," he said. "I think the average age of the severely injured patient probably 10 years ago was about 32 to 35, and now it's probably in the low 40s."