Each year, nationwide, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls. Because of a fall injury, more than 700,000 patients a year end up being hospitalized. In fact, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths, hospitalizations and emergency room visits among adults 65 and older.
Falls are also costly. According to the Centers for Disease Control, medical costs for treating falls totaled more than $19 billion in 2000. By 2020, those medical costs are expected to reach $54.9 billion. Simply put, falls are one of the most critical, and most preventable, triggers of decline.
Beginning with a pilot in Erie County, we launched the Step Up to Stop Falls program in 2007. Since then, the Foundation has invested approximately $3 million to prevent falls, working with coalitions and organizations in seven counties to implement a variety of programs, including:
- Exercise classes like Tai Chi for older adults to maintain and improve balance
- Home assessment and modification programs to teach older adults how to identify and eliminate falls hazards like poor lighting and loose area rugs from their homes.
- Community awareness and education programs, including a Step Up to Stop Falls toolkit
Coalitions also worked to educate health care providers about risks of falls, risk assessments and interventions to prevent falls.
We’re now focusing our efforts on developing a new falls-prevention initiative that aims to engage larger systems to achieve broader impact for the most vulnerable older adults, primarily those that are dually eligible for Medicaid and Medicare.
To date, this work has reached more than 4,000 older adults and 700 caregivers and has resulted in fewer falls, improved Timed Up and Go (TUG) scores, a reduction in home hazards and increased awareness of risks among older adults. It has also resulted in increased awareness of risks and increased screenings for falls among health professionals.
When we measured the rate of hospitalizations due to unintentional falls, it dropped significantly for nearly all Step Up counties from 2007 to 2013, while rates in New York state as whole, and in other individual counties, did not decrease.