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Caring for Seniors

Senior Falls Are Dangerous and Costly, But They’re Also Preventable

What would you say if you found out $31 billion is spent on direct medical costs for injuries associated with falls? And consider the fact that every year, 2.8 million people over the age of 65 are treated in emergency departments, but this is less than 50 percent of those who actually seek medical care as a result of their fall. You do the math. The numbers are astounding.

According to Kathleen Cameron, senior director of the Center for Healthy Aging at the National Council on Aging, “The most common reasons [for falls] include chronic conditions, medications, blood pressure, decrease in muscle strength and balance, and home environment.”

Prevention is the best medicine

There are a few things seniors, people with elderly parents, or caregivers can do to help prevent falls. First, fall-proof the home. Add nightlights in the bedroom and the hallway leading to the bathroom. Installing grab-bars near the toilet and bathtub and placing a non-slip mat in the tub. You can even use a chair in the tub or shower to help with balance. And improving stairways.

Speak to your doctor or pharmacist and let them know about all the medications you are taking to ensure there are no possible drug interactions and to understand the possible side effects.

Get your blood pressure checked since this can lead to dizziness. Or if you’re on blood pressure medication, make sure your condition is stable. Keep in mind that physical activity is vital to maintaining muscle strength and balance.

Broken bones and long-term issues

Of the millions of falls each year, 20 percent result in broken bones on head injury. With age, broken bones can have more serious repercussions than when we were younger. Debbie Zeldow, acting executive director of the National Bone Health Alliance, says, “Fractures later in life can result in loss of independence, severe disability and even loss of life. In fact, one in five older Americans who suffer from a hip fracture will die within the next year and 40 percent or more will lose their independence, requiring long-term extended care.”

And remember when we said 2.8 million older people are treated in the emergency room for falls each year? Well 300,000 of those patients are admitted to the hospital for hip fractures.

Breaking bones, especially with seniors, can also be a sign of osteoporosis. Unfortunately, only about 20 percent of patients with fractures are actually tested for osteoporosis. Zeldow adds that “about half of those who do will later break another bone.”

Spreading the word

For the past 10 years, the National Council on Aging in conjunction with state and local partners, national organizations, federal agencies, and coalitions, organizes a Falls Prevention Awareness Day on the first day of fall each year — this year it will be on September 22, 2017. The organizations at a local level plan events to educate and bring attention to this issue.

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