The calendar says autumn has arrived and with it comes attention to another type of “fall” – one that will happen to 140 older adults in New York every day.
Falls experienced by older adults is an important issue for our community because of the effect of a fall on a person’s health, his or her quality of life and the tremendous cost to our health care system.
Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for older adults. You may remember that Ann B. Davis, who played Alice the Housekeeper on the popular 1960s sitcom The Brady Bunch, died last year after entering into a coma caused by a fall in her bathtub. In 2013, news journalist Barbara Walters was admitted to the hospital due to injuries she sustained in a fall.
In the U.S., one out of every three adults age 65 and over fall each year. In Erie County alone, that means approximately 50,000 older adults will fall this year. But the actual fall, sadly, is just one part of the story.
Research has demonstrated that a person who falls has a greater chance of falling again, feeling less confident, becoming depressed or socially isolated and experiencing a loss of quality of life and physical function.
National statistics show older adults are hospitalized five times more often for fall-related injuries than any other injury. Annual hospitalization charges in New York for fall-related injuries total $1.7 billion and annual charges for outpatient emergency department treatment exceed $145 million.
New York State statistics also report 60% of those who are hospitalized due to a fall end up in a skilled nursing facility or rehabilitation center, 27% experience a hip fracture and 11% suffer a traumatic brain injury.
The good news is there are concerted and coordinated efforts taking place, through a variety of public sector and foundation-supported initiatives, to increase awareness of preventing falls.
The Health Foundation for Western and Central New York began a “Step Up to Stop Falls” initiative eight years ago in Erie County, and has since awarded nearly $3 million in funding to seven county coalitions in both western and central New York.
The initiative focuses on implementing exercise programs, home assessment and modification programs, community awareness and education programs as well as health care provider educational activities.
While we can’t take all the credit, we’re seeing some encouraging results. For example, in Erie County in 2005, the hospitalization rate for falls was 2,199 per 100,000 residents. In 2013, that number fell to 2,063 per 100,000 residents.
With that in mind, organizations and individuals are encouraged to help older adults to recognize and change or modify risk factors associated with falls, including lower body weakness, walking and balancing difficulties, use of medicines, vision problems and home hazards like broken steps, floor clutter, and the absence of stairway or bathroom handrails. To learn more, visit our website at hfwcny.org.
This autumn, falls prevention is good for older adults and for our entire community.
Amber L. Slichta is interim president of the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York and is chair of the New York Funders Alliance.