About one fourth of seniors aged 65 and over suffer one or more falls each year. Falls are the leading cause of accidental death and of traumatic injury among older Americans, resulting in almost three million emergency room visits and 27,000 deaths annually. It's clear that falling represents an extraordinary threat to seniors, but technology may slowly be changing that.
Related: How Balance Training for Seniors Can Reduce Falls
From remote monitoring to home automation and wireless sensor technology, we now have the tools to reduce the number of falls among seniors, respond more quickly when falls do occur and provide a safety net for seniors who wish to age in place.
An Eye in the Sky
For seniors who have chosen to live independently, and for their caregivers and families, suffering a fall while home alone is a common fear. Caregivers and family members simply can't be present 24/7, but that doesn't mean you can't monitor your loved one. Many security systems, in addition to providing protection against break-ins and other unwanted visitors, also offer home video surveillance systems. This allows you to keep a close eye on your loved one no matter where you are, and it can also be combined with other systems like motion sensors and wearable tech to provide complete monitoring solutions. When every minute counts after a fall or other home accident, the ability to stay connected while on the go is invaluable.
Lighting the Way to Reduce Falls
Of the many risk factors involved in falls among seniors, perhaps none is more common than poor lighting conditions. As we age, retinal neurodegeneration and other processes begin to affect our eyesight in a number of ways. Our eyes receive less light, and they may take far longer to adjust to varying light intensity. In fact, studies have shown that it may take up to a full minute for an elderly person's eyes to adjust when moving from a well-lit room to darkness, leaving them virtually blind and extremely vulnerable to tripping and falling.
Modern smart lighting offers a number of ways to improve home lighting for seniors, including convenient, centralized light controls for the entire home, motion sensors and lighting that can be set to a predetermined schedule. Home automation even allows seniors to control their lighting by voice command, eliminating the need to move in the dark and fumble for light switches.
Prepare for the Worst
When a senior suffers a fall, the immediate concern becomes getting help for them as quickly as possible. Even if they aren't injured during the fall itself, about half of seniors who suffer falls cannot get up again on their own. Lying immobile on the floor for an extended period of time can cause a litany of health complications, including pneumonia, dehydration, rhabdomyolysis, pressure ulcers and hypothermia, and adverse effects can set in within as little as 30 minutes.
That's where medical alert systems come in. These systems often use pendants, bracelets, panic buttons and other wearable or portable devices to provide seniors and those who care for them with 24-hour access to emergency services. Some newer devices also feature integrated accelerometers and other sensors to detect when a fall has occurred and immediately call for help, even if the person has been left incapacitated.
For many seniors and their families, the choice of whether to age in place or seek assisted living is an agonizing decision. Most seniors prefer to stay at home for as long as they are able, but the risk of falling makes it a frightening and potentially dangerous prospect. Home automation and other smart technologies, however, promise to empower seniors to live safer, more independent lives and provide some peace of mind to their loved ones.