Although the elderly comprise a small percentage of the annual accident rates, they are more likely to receive more serious injuries or consequences from car crashes, falls at home, and over-medication. For instance, seniors make up less than 20 percent of the population in Washington. However, they account for the highest rate of accidental death in several categories.
On the Road
In 2019, Washington recorded more than 110,000 automobile accidents — only 0.4 percent of which involved seniors. However, seniors are more likely to get injured or die from these accidents. A person in his 30s can walk away from a serious crash with little to no lasting injuries. Perhaps a bad case of whiplash can count, and there might be a big payday if good lawyers help sue for spinal cord injuries. However, these injuries are often temporary. Among seniors, even a mild bump can lead to more than just whiplash. Seniors often have weaker musculature, bones, ligaments, and tendons. A hit that a man in his 30s or 40s can walk away from can be fatal to a man over 70 or 80. Of the 517 automobile fatalities recorded in 2019, 114 involved seniors. The elderly were involved in just 0.4 percent of the total number of accidents but accounted for 88 percent of fatalities. Most accidents occur in big urban centers.
Road safety can be difficult for seniors. Reflexes dull with age, and most seniors take medication that can dull them even further. Ride-sharing companies can provide the necessary transportation. However, most seniors will rather drive a car to assert their independence. The state also offers collision prevention courses targeted to seniors. These eight-hour courses cost $15 to $20, but taking them cuts insurance premiums by 15 percent.
Accidents involving seniors are more common at home — particularly slips and falls. A third of all seniors suffer from falls each year. However, some studies have reported figures as high as two-thirds. Falls are the leading cause of accidental death and injury among seniors. In the U.S., more than three million seniors receive emergency treatment for fall-related injuries. Most falls happen at home, most notably in bathrooms.
Falls in the bathroom are also twice as likely to cause injury. Visibility is also a big factor in falls as darkness more than doubles the chances of falling. Getting injured in a fall will also make it more likely for the individual to suffer a similar incident within the year. Falling sideways is especially dangerous as it could lead to hip fractures. More than 50 percent of seniors who suffer a hip fracture die within a year.
A few grab bars in the bathroom should make a home significantly safer. Supports around the toilet are essential, as sitting down and getting up can be strenuous. Raised seats are also an option. Regular showers and baths can be dangerous as one grows older. Walk-in tubs are good options, as they allow seniors to bathe while sitting down. Timed lights that switch on before sundown are better options than motion-detecting lights. Turning the lights on can be disorienting and even cause bouts of vertigo.
Alzheimer’s often cause seniors to accidentally take more than the prescribed dosage of medication — sometimes with serious consequences. In Washington, seniors lead every age group when it comes to the number of fatal overdoses. Seniors often have underlying conditions because of age, making them more vulnerable to the effects of over medication.
Most seniors experience pain in different parts of their body — particularly in winter. Washington winters can be hard on aching joints. As temperatures drop, the number of opioid overdose cases in seniors rises sharply. Although some instances can be attributed to opioid abuse, most deaths and visits to the emergency rooms are accidental. Most doctors are also over-prescribing medicine. A 2014 to 2015 study by Harvard University noted that opioid manufacturers have been paying doctors huge amounts of money through speaking events, consultation, or retainer services. Thousands of doctors received more than $25,000 during the time frame — and hundreds of select doctors received six-figure sums.
Overdoses typically happen to seniors living on their own. Family or caretakers could get involved to monitor proper dosages of medication. However, most seniors prefer to hold on to their independence.
Timed pill dispensers can make it safer to take medications unsupervised. These devices can be programmed to dispense medication during regular intervals, preventing overdoses due to memory lapses. Non-opioid pain medications are also an option, as well as more natural homeopathic remedies.
Car crashes while driving, slipping and falling at home, or lapses of memory causing over-medication — when it comes to accidents, seniors are the most vulnerable.