Fighting Gravity – The High Costs of Falls in Elderly People

One look at a frail elderly family member is all you need to recognize that our fall risk increases as we age. Without even knowing it they signal their fight with gravity – shuffling their feet in shoes with slick soles, reaching for furniture and walls, and refusing walkers or canes, and tenaciously holding on to area rugs whose edges are snares for the unsuspecting! Add to that dirty eye glasses, poor lighting, and medications that make them feel “loopy” and it’s soon a matter of when, not if, a fall will occur.

Lest you think you are the only person with a parent or grandparent in this situation, check out the latest statistics (2013) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html):

  • About 25,500 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries.
  • 2.5 million nonfatal falls among older adults were treated in emergency departments and more than 734,000 of these patients were hospitalized.
  • The direct medical costs of falls, adjusted for inflation, were $34 billion.

And then there are these grim facts to consider:

  • Twenty to thirty percent of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures, and head traumas.
  • Over 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls. Each year, there are over 258,000 hip fractures and the rate for women is almost twice the rate for men.
  • People age 75 and older who fall are four to five times more likely than those age 65 to 74 to be admitted to a long-term care facility for a year or longer.

In response to this troubling public health problem, the CDC has launched Stopping Elderly Accidents Deaths & Injuries (STEADI). This website (http://www.cdc.gov/steadi/index.html) has a variety of resource materials for providers and patients. I found the “Check for Safety” brochure on the Materials for Patients page (http://www.cdc.gov/steadi/patient.html) particularly helpful for anyone interested in evaluating a home environment for fall hazards.

 

Dianne Jewell, PT, DPT, PhD
Dianne Jewell, PT, DPT, PhD

 

The American Physical Therapy Association (http://www.apta.org/BalanceFalls/) and the American Occupational Therapy Association (http://www.aota.org/Practice/Productive-Aging/Falls.aspx) also offer extensive resources for therapists related to balance and falls.