Office for the Aging

 
 

September is National Falls Prevention Awareness Month

September is National Falls Prevention Awareness Month, and though many don’t give it much thought, a slip or fall could end up being the start of a lengthy and costly hospital stay – or worse – for an older adult.

According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), an older adult is seen in an emergency department every 15 seconds for a fall-related injury. Falls are the leading cause of injuries for those aged 65 and over in New York State, with more than 52,000 hospitalizations and nearly 89,000 Emergency Room visits annually due to injuries from unintentional falls in older adults age 65 and older. The statistics provided the NYS Department of Health Bureau of Occupational Health and Injury Prevention also show that the annual cost of hospitalizations and ER visits due to falls exceeds $2.3 billion in New York.

Falls are predictable and preventable but can be devastating to older adults. Adding to the seriousness of the problem are the costs of treatment and recovery in New York State. Common injuries as a result of a fall include brain injuries, and fractures of the hip, vertebrae, and pelvis.

Sixty percent of these falls occur in the home. Environmental risk factors in homes and outdoors include:

  • Clutter in walkways or on stairs
  • Electrical cords that cross pathways
  • Throw rugs; loose carpets
  • Slippery surfaces; changes in floor/steps
  • Unstable furniture
  • Poor or inadequate lighting
  • Inappropriate chair or cabinet heights
  • Pets and pet-related objects
  • Lack of stair railings of grab bars
  • Uneven/cracked pavement or surfaces
  • Tree roots
  • Building mats
  • Door sills

Personal risk factors include:

  • Age (risk is greatest for 65+)
  • Gender (females more likely to be injured/males more likely to die)
  • Race (death rates highest among older white males)
  • History of falling
  • Lower body weakness
  • Poor gait or balance
  • Vision impairment
  • Chronic Conditions (Parkinson’s disease, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis, incontinence)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fear of falling
  • Taking four or more medications
  • Taking psychoactive medication

Consider building a personal independence plan to help you age in place.

  • Home Safety Evaluation
  • Environmental factors that can lead to falls include tripping hazards, furniture placement and limitations in physical spaces (bathroom, doorway width, etc.). A home safety evaluation, prescribed by your doctor and performed by a Certified Occupational Therapist, can lead to recommendations of equipment and technology to improve access and safety in the home. These recommendations need not be expensive, and may include eliminating throw rugs and installing nightlights and bathtub grab-bars.
  • Home Modification
  • A modification to your home may allow you to remain independent. Stair glides help those who no longer climb stairs reach the upper and lower levels of their home, ramps allow for ease of entry, especially for those in wheelchairs, and other structural modifications, such as widened doorways and lowered kitchen cabinets, sinks and counters, can increase accessibility and quality of life.
  • Assistive Technology
  • Assistive technologies range from low-tech devices to more complex electronics. Simple solutions include grabbers to reach objects on high shelves, easy-to-grip kitchen utensils, long shoehorns, shower seats, tub benches and raised toilet seats. Complex electronic devices include voice- or switch-activated environmental control systems, which operate appliances, lights or televisions.
  • Personal Emergency Response Systems
  • At the touch of a button worn on the wrist or around the neck, a personal emergency response system puts you in direct contact with an operator at a central station who can summon medical assistance. The devices are waterproof and can be worn in the tub or shower, two areas where falls often occur.
  • Motion Sensor Systems
  • These motion sensor monitors learn and document your routine and alert family members or caregivers if something seems amiss in your home. The devices are not cameras, they simply measure how often you take your medication or open the refrigerator door, and monitor if you get out of bed or fail to exit the bathroom after entering. Temperature extremes, hot or cold, also trigger an alert. It’s like you’re never alone, even when you’re by yourself.
  • Non-Skilled and Contracted Services
  • Sometimes, a little help around the house can keep you independent. Non-skilled services range from light housekeeping, laundry, cleaning, or transportation to the grocery store or doctor appointments, to 24-hour companionship. These services are typically contracted on an hourly basis and can include providers of home repair, security services and landscaping/snow removal. Availability of reasonable, reliable services can keep you from making a premature decision to give up your home because of minor problems.

Three of the most obvious and easy changes a person can make to avoid falls are reducing clutter, making sure electrical cords are safely tucked away from walking paths, and being sure throw rugs and carpets are secured to the floor.

For information about the financial impact of falls and related injuries, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Studies have found that a combination of interventions can significantly reduce falls in the older adult population. Experts recommend:

  • a physical activity regimen that includes balance, strength training, and flexibility components;
  • consulting with a health professional about getting a fall risk assessment;
  • having medications reviewed periodically;
  • having vision checked annually; and
  • making sure the home environment is safe and supportive.

For more information about fall prevention, you can visit these websites:
Tools and Resources for Preventing Falls from the National Council on Aging
Data and Information on Falls and Falls Prevention (New York State DOH)