Why Falls Can Be Fatal
Falls can be life threatening—and even deadly—at any age. This is especially true for both young children and elderly adults. Falls themselves are usually not the direct cause of death, though. Fatalities are more likely to occur in people of any age from the injuries they sustain in the fall, whether it is shortly after or later on.
If a fatality does not happen soon after the fall, medical costs quickly add up as the victim fights for their life. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that injuries sustained from falls have totaled in excess of $50 billion in 2015 alone (the most recent data available from the CDC).
What kind of fall-related injuries can prove fatal?
While many people who fall down do not get injured, those who are very young or significantly older are more likely to sustain some type of injury. Some of the most common injuries include:
- Broken bones
- Head and brain injuries
- Organ damage, like punctured lungs
- Spinal cord injuries
- Secondary infections from wound sites (such as sepsis)
The CDC reports that one out of every five falls causes an injury as serious as a broken bone or a head injury. Truth be told, falls are actually the most common cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Some people are fortunate enough to fully heal from concussions and TBI, but if they hit their head hard enough, that kind of injury is not easy to recover from and can lead to death.
An average of 475,000 children per year sustain a brain injury
A 2017 study found that of those nearly 500,000 children who are diagnosed with TBI each year, 37,000 of them are hospitalized and 2,685 die from their injuries—that is 5 out of every 100,000 children. While that fatality number may seem small, it should not be ignored. The death rate is also significantly higher for children 0-4 years old when compared older children.
Over 3,000,000 seniors were hospitalized for falls in 2019
Unlike children who can typically bounce back quickly after their injuries due to being so young, older adults often have a much more difficult time. Any degree of trauma or injury can require hospitalization at their age and they may never regain the same level of functionality they once had before. Older adults tend to have much more fragile bones and decreased muscle mass which not only can help cause a fall, but can also slow recovery. The CDC found that 1 in 4 seniors fall every year, but 64 per every 100,000 seniors die from their fall—that is nearly 13 times the rate of deaths among children. (That number is much higher in Oklahoma – about 106 out of every 100,000.)
What makes people more likely to fall?
Fatal falls in Tulsa are not as uncommon as you might think. There is a reason that young children and elderly adults are the two most common age groups to suffer life-threatening injuries as a result of a fall. They share many of the same risk factors, making them very susceptible to tripping or falling down. However, most falls are caused by a combination of two or more risk factors. Some of the conditions that may lead to a fall include:
- Difficulty walking or balancing. While an older person may have a hard time walking because of their age, someone like a toddler may have a hard time balancing as they are just learning the ropes.
- Vitamin D deficiency. While older people are more susceptible to this type of deficiency than younger children, that does not mean it is impossible to experience. Not eating a balanced diet or not getting enough sunlight can cause this. It can also lead to much more severe bone diseases in both the elderly and children (osteomalacia and rickets, respectively). Conditions like Crohn’s disease or kidney and liver disease can also affect the body’s ability to absorb vitamin D.
- Lower body weakness. This is more common in the elderly because muscle mass deteriorates as people age, making it harder to stand and walk for long periods of time.
- Use of medications. Some medications can affect balance and steadiness, especially those like tranquilizers, sedatives, or antidepressants. Certain medications, like prednisone and cholesterol drugs, can lead to a vitamin D deficiency as well, which in turn can affect the bones,
- Vision impairment. If someone is unable to see well, they are more likely to trip over things or walk through hazardous areas.
- Foot pain. Much more prevalent in seniors, one could imagine how hard it would be to walk well and balance if someone is experiencing pain in one or both of their feet. Neuropathy and pressure ulcers are not uncommon sources of foot pain in senior citizens.
- Poor footwear. Many seniors choose to wear footwear that is versatile as they age, like tennis shoes or flats because it helps them stay steady on the ground. With children, use of improper footwear for certain terrain can lead to tripping or slipping, like wearing dress shoes on the playground.
- Home hazards. Broken basement stairs, uneven porch steps, or clutter on the floor can all cause people of any age to trip and fall. However, it is much more likely that someone would not be able to catch themselves if they are experiencing any of these other risk factors at the same time.
Half of those who fall and do not require hospitalization never even tell their doctor. Unfortunately, falling once doubles a senior’s chance of falling again. After experiencing a fall, older people often become very afraid of falling again especially if it has already happened more than once. To lower the risk of falling again, seniors tend to cut back on their everyday activities, like exercising, taking walks, dancing, or gardening. Once they are less active, they become even weaker. This sadly only further increases their chances of falling yet again and running the risk of it being more fatal.
If you or a loved one has fallen due to someone else’s negligence, our Tulsa personal injury attorneys at Biby Law Firm can help. We represent clients throughout Oklahoma and we know how to build an effective case on your behalf. We understand how insurance companies and their lawyers think and operate, and we fight to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve for your injuries. Give us a call, or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.
Jacob Biby has spent his legal career helping folks just like you get the resources they need after an injury. He completed his undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State University and earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa in 2008. Jacob is licensed to practice in all Oklahoma state and federal courts, and has limited his career to representing individuals and families who were injured by the negligence of other people or corporations. Learn more about Jacob Biby.