What’s the first you think of after you’ve had a fall? Most people would simply assume that they’re having some problems with eyesight or balance, hence impairing their ability to coordinate movement. Some also assume that they’ve had nothing more than a moment of clumsiness. These are not impossible conclusions. They do make perfect sense, but it is important to know that there can be other underlying reasons for the fall.
Dr. Farrin Manian is a clinician educator and the principal investigator of a Massachusetts General Hospital study regarding infections and falls in the elderly.
The study involved 161 patients who were treated in the Massachusetts General Hospital emergency room for a fall. All 161 of these patients were later also diagnosed with an underlying infection. Of these, 44.1 percent had a urinary tract infection, 39.8 percent had a bloodstream infection, 23 percent had a respiratory infection and 5.6 percent had an infection of the heart valve.
Initially, experts did not suspect an underlying infection in more than 40 percent of the patients. This may be due to the fact that many of these patients only had one, or even none, of common signs of an infection (such as a rapid heart rate, an abnormal white blood cell count, and fever). As such, it is apparent that it is highly likely for the underlying infection to be missed if you don’t consider all the factors that led up to your fall.
Now you may be wondering how exactly an infection could lead to a fall. There may not seem like there is an obvious link between the two, but the explanation is rather simple! According to researchers involved in the Massachusetts General Hospital study, infections can lower blood pressure. This will result in feelings of lightheadedness and dizziness, which then increase the person’s risk of falling. This effect is worsened in elderly persons because illnesses can also increase confusion in older people, especially in the cases of those who are also suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
According to Dr. Manian, he was inspired to conduct the study because he had realized, over the years, that some of the more serious infections he had treated were in people who had come to the hospital because they had had a fall.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2.5 million elderly persons end up in American emergency rooms each year as a result of falls. Of these 2.5 million, less than a third require hospitalization consequentially. The death rate of these falls has also increased between the years 2004 and 2013, from 41 deaths per year for every 100, 000 people to 57 deaths every year for the same number of people.
With such a large number of cases of elderly falls every year, it is important to be informed that there could be a huge range of causes behind the falling – it might not be a bout of clumsiness or failing eyesight.
Of course, it is important to maintain your regular health checkups to ensure that no infections or other health problems go unnoticed. However, if you have already had a fall, it is essential that you don’t jump straight to conclusions and assume that it was due to clumsiness, eyesight problems, confusion, or other reasons. It is important that you consider all possibilities, and get a full health checkup conducted if possible, so as to detect any underlying health problems.
By staying aware of the health of your complete body and mind, you can control your risk for serious falls!