Preventing Older Adult Falls


ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Every 20 minutes an older adult dies from injuries sustained from a fall. In fact, falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury and fracture for seniors. The annual medical costs of treating people who fall is an estimated 30 billion dollars. And that number is expected to rise as the population ages. But there are things you can do to decrease your risk of falling. Ivanhoe has the details.

“I laid in the yard for about two and a half hours before the next-door neighbor saw me laying there,” shared Sarah Grant.

“I had fallen so often, and I was on a first name basis with the firefighters,” said Patricia Bersche.

Sarah and Patricia laugh about it now, but falls are frightening and common for older adults. In fact, older adults without any risk factors have a 25 to 33 percent chance of falling, but …

Susan Stark, PhD, Occupational Therapist at Washington University spearheaded a study to see if in-home behavioral intervention changed the odds of falling.

“It can be things like adding a grab rail or changing the way you do something like turning on a light before you walk down the stairs,” stated Stark.

Emily Somerville, OTD, OTR/L at Washington University visited Sarah three times. She witnessed firsthand what Sarah was doing that put her in harm’s way.

“So, we added this grab bar here for these two steps as she comes down or up the stairs, down here,” Somerville explained.

Other simple but effective solutions … adding a grab bar for getting in and out of the shower and on and off the toilet. A tub bench can also help get in and out safely. Stark’s study saw a 40 percent reduction in falls.

“So, we didn’t only reduce falls, we actually reduced overall healthcare costs,” said Stark.

The study found they were saving over two dollars on medical care for every dollar spent in prevention.

The average per person cost of intervention was 765 dollars, and per person declines in healthcare costs were estimated to be 1,613 dollars. While there is evidence to support the cost-benefit of home modification in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany, this study is the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of a community-based approach in the United States.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; and Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.


REPORT #2911

BACKGROUND: Falls are the leading cause of injury-related visits to emergency rooms in the United States, and the primary cause of accidental deaths in those over the age of 65. Falls can be the indication of poor health and declining function, and often associated with significant morbidity. More than 90 percent of hip fractures occur because of falls, with most of them happening in persons over 70 years of age. There are risk factors for falling that include increasing age, medication use, cognitive impairment, and sensory deficits. Evaluation of a patient who has fallen includes a focused history with an emphasis on medications, a physical examination and simple tests of postural control and overall physical function. Treatment is targeted at the underlying cause of the fall and one that can help return the patient to baseline function.


PREVENTING OLDER ADULT FALLS: There are ways to lower the chances of an older adult falling and the first place to start is around their home. Things like getting rid of throw rugs and making sure the carpet is even; being sure furniture won’t topple if grabbed for support; improving lighting; installing grab bars where they might be needed (near toilets and showers); and wearing an electronic pendent with a button to push to call for help. Another way is to take regular exercise classes that include moves or postures that require balance, such as yoga or tai chi. And integrating balance and strength practice into everyday life like standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or standing with one foot in front of the other. Other important factors include drinking water and eating foods with vitamin D to increase muscle strength, as well as getting screened for osteoporosis. Having your eyes checked yearly and avoiding sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication that can reduce concentration are important. Instead try warm milk, hot chamomile tea, or listen to soft music to relax.


STATES TAKING ACTION: To prevent and reduce falls for an older adult, states have adopted legislation that includes supporting older adults in their homes, communities, and clinical settings. California enacted SB 280 in 2019 requiring the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development to investigate possible changes to building standards. The legislation allows the department to incorporate changes to the residential code if the requirements do not significantly increase the cost of construction. Connecticut, New Mexico, New York and Washington established statewide fall prevention programs dedicated to raising awareness and providing resources to older adults. Minnesota requires unlicensed personnel in assisted living facilities to complete fall prevention training, and Washington requires long-term care workers to complete core competency training, which includes fall prevention training. According to a 2019 report from the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Aging, cross-cutting interventions that include multiple facets such as education and awareness, physical mobility and addressing home safety increase the effectiveness of the interventions. State policymakers can consider these cross-cutting interventions and use them to create or modify statewide initiatives to reduce falls, improve health outcomes and reduce health costs.


* For More Information, Contact:

Judy Martin Finch, PR                                                            Diane Duke Williams, PR                                                      


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