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A loss of sleep has a negative impact on the quality of life for people of all ages. Sleep deprivation can lead to a loss of alertness, weak physical equilibrium, delayed reaction times, memory loss, affected mood, and suppressed immunity, among other symptoms.
Many symptoms associated with sleep loss pose a greater risk for slipping and falling, and the injuries that may result from falling. The elderly are at great risk for both loss of sleep and sustaining injury from slips and falls. Falls are costly on an emotional, physical, and financial level for everyone, especially seniors.
Falling down poses one of the greatest health risks to the elderly. Twenty-five percent of Americans aged 65+ are reported to fall each year. Sleep loss is associated with falls, and it is believed that sleep loss can lead to dangerous falls.
Several factors combine that lead to an overall loss of sleep among the elderly.
First, human sleep architecture changes over time. The neurons in the brain that regulate our sleep patterns begin to die off as we age. The pineal gland, responsible for creating melatonin, begins to shrink and reduces the amount of sleep hormone along with it. Sleep problems may be a result of menopause and can continue into post-menopause. Chronic health conditions associated with the elderly may be accompanied by their own insomnia symptoms. These diseases include:
Structural life changes also affect how seniors sleep. Emotions impact sleep and seniors are faced with a variety of emotional obstacles as their lives change.
Retirement is a transition that can be emotionally traumatizing. Anxiety and grief may plague the elderly as they lose friends and loved ones over time. Stress about finances, along with the burden of medical bills, may lead to further anxiety and even depression.
Seniors may also take medications, such as blood thinners, antidepressants, sedatives, and blood pressure medications, that can all impact their equilibrium.
Sleep-deprived people often experience:
The negative impacts of sleep deprivation may easily lead to slips and falls. Memory loss, less attention to the tasks at hand, impaired decision-making, and slower reaction times can all lead to a loss of balance that may result in injury.
Senses, such as sight and hearing, often decline with age. Additionally, the elderly tend to exercise – a natural means to fatigue the body and promote healthy sleep – less, which in turn further impairs their physical reactivity, along with their spatial awareness.
While it may not be the most obvious contribution to injuries that are a result of falling down, sleep loss is a silent and potentially dangerous contributor to the decline of quality of life for seniors.
Slips and falls pose a great health risk to people of all ages, but particularly the elderly. The risk of death following a bone fracture increases in patients over 50 years old. That increase can be between 20-25% in the first year following a femur or hip fracture.
Falls may result in broken bones, such as the wrist, arm, ankle, and hip. Falls may also result in head injuries. A traumatic head injury can be a serious health threat, especially if that person is on certain types of medication such as blood thinners. Even without an injury, any senior who slips or falls should see a doctor immediately if they fall to get a full checkup.
Statistics on elderly falls show the problem can cause serious injury:
Even without an injury, falls are frightening to seniors and can negatively impact their lives. Fear of falling may lead to a decrease of activity and mobility. That decrease in mobility can further weaken muscles, physical and spatial awareness, and dull a senior’s sense of balance. In turn, fear can lead to a variety of life changes that may increase the risk of falling.
But falls are not only emotionally daunting and physically hazardous. They pose a great financial risk for seniors, whose income may be limited, due to medical bills.
In 2015, the total medical costs associated with falls exceeded $50 billion, and that number is expected to grow substantially over the next 20 years. That same year, the medical costs associated with nonfatal falls in the U.S. were estimated to total around $49.5 billion, including $28.9 billion paid by Medicare, $8.7 billion paid by Medicaid, and $12 billion paid by other sources (such as private insurance and out-of-pocket payments).
The burden is not only on the pockets of the elderly, but the healthcare and social system too. Social programs that help the elderly have shrunk over the past two decades. Bankruptcy, partially fueled by medical costs, is an increasing threat to the elderly.
Most accidents can be prevented by taking the time to be aware of risks and diminishing them. From crumpled rugs to a difficult bed to enter and exit, the bedroom itself is a space that poses a great danger for falling among the elderly. There are tips and tricks to preventing slips and falls with better sleep, including:
Attaining that good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to prevent accidents from happening during the day. Here are some of the best ways to ensure that you get the best night’s rest possible to set yourself up for success by day:
A combination of healthy life choices can increase the overall quality of life and health for the elderly. Being disciplined about exercise, diet, and sleep can all have a highly positive impact on anybody’s health. But those choices support a healthier outlook for the elderly, whose overall ability to stay active decreases over time.
A good night’s sleep greatly impacts the day that follows it. Understanding the natural changes in human sleep patterns with age and creating awareness around the importance of sleep is a key part of having a healthy life during advanced age. Falling can be a direct result of interrupted sleep, ranging from tripping while getting out of bed, to a loss of balance that results in a slip or fall. The link between a good night’s sleep and avoiding injury from slips and fall is important to understand and should be a part of every senior’s health regime.