More than 2 million people injured in falls each year - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

More than 2 million people injured in falls each year

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A cluttered room, a melting ice cube or an excited pet -- all of these things are common hazards that could lead to a fall, especially for unsteady or visually-impaired older adults.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every three adults, 65 and older, will fall sometime this year.

Falls among older adults in the U.S. cost an estimated $30 billion annually. As Baby Boomers age, so will the number of falls and cost of treating injuries among this group.

Beatrice Vicks suffered a painful fall three years ago while ironing inside her Charlotte, North Carolina home.

"The cord was attached to the wall," Vicks recalls. "Instead of walking around the ironing board, I decided to step over the cord."

She was rushing to go somewhere to meet friends. Instead, she ended up being rushed to the hospital with a severe ankle injury that took several months to heal.

"Sometimes, we think we are much younger than we are or that we're living in the past and we can do the same things at the same pace we did when we were younger," Vicks says.

She has fully recovered from her injury. She considers herself lucky and for good reason.

The CDC reports more than 20,000 older adults, or 56 people a day, died from fall injuries in a recent year. This figure doesn't even include the 2.3 million who were treated that same year in emergency rooms.

Linda Miller is with the Centralina Area Agency on Aging which is part of a national association that helps older adults find ways to live independently in their homes for as long as possible.

Recently, Miller went to Vicks' home with America Now to identify potential hazards that could cause someone to fall.

"You have to be careful because if you are walking barefoot or in slippers, it might catch there, the nails do stick up a little bit," Miller says after rubbing her hand over a threshold between the dining and laundry rooms.

Miller says a bad fall can result in devastating consequences.

"It can keep you in the hospital, and a lot of adults never recover from a fall, hip fractures, broken bones," Miller adds.

Kitchens are one of the most dangerous places in your home. Experts recommend placing things you frequently use in lower cabinets or easy-to-reach areas. If you must retrieve something up high, use a stepladder, but make sure it is solid, has skid-free steps, and rubber feet that won't slide on the floor.

"We like the ones that have a couple of steps and has one of those really firm arms you can hold," Miller says.

Nightlights are an inexpensive way to prevent falls in other areas of your home.

"Those are really good in hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms because a lot of people get up in the middle of the night," says Miller."A great way to reduce your risk of falling is to have a motion detector nightlight."

You can also improve the lighting in your home by installing brighter light bulbs.

Area rugs are dangerous, so get rid of the ones you really don't need. The ones you keep should have a non-slip or rubber backing so they won't slide on the floor. 

Be sure to watch out for electrical cords that aren't tucked away properly.

Paint a contrasting color on the top edge of all steps so you can see the stairs better.

What may be even more debilitating than a physical injury is how a fall can also cripple a person mentally by stealing an individual's self-confidence and causing them to self-isolate at home.

"What they do now is restrict their activities, they stay home more, and they don't do what they used to do, so now they are a higher risk for a fall because they're not exercising, they lose muscle tone, they lose flexibility," Miller says. 

Once you lose those two things, you're more likely to fall again. So, do exercises on your own, or find a group in your area who you can exercise with on a regular basis to improve your balance and coordination.

Additional Information:

The following tips are from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Make sure that you have good, bright lighting in your home. Use nightlights in your bedroom, hall and bathroom.
  • Make sure rugs are firmly fastened to the floor or use nonskid backing.  Tack down loose ends.
  • Move electrical or phone cords so they are not lying on the floor in walking areas. Do not run cords under rugs.
  • Put grab bars in your bathroom for support when moving on or off the toilet, or stepping into the tub or shower.  Consider using a seat while showering for a safe, stable position for washing legs and feet.
  • Install handrails on both sides of stairwells. Be sure the stairs are well lit.
  • Store items within easy reach and avoid using step stools or stepladders. Keep items that you use near where you use them.
  • Add cordless phones so that you have a phone in easy reach to place or answer calls.  Make sure the phone near the bed is a corded phone that will work even when power is out.
  • Wear shoes with firm non-skid, non-friction soles. Avoid wearing loose-fitting slippers.

The following data is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Source: http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html).

  • In 2000, falls among older adults cost the U.S. health care system over $19 billion, or $30 billion in 2010 dollars. With the population aging, both the number of falls and the costs to treat fall injuries are likely to increase.
  • One in three adults, age 65 and older, falls each year.
  • Of those who fall, 20% to 30% suffer moderate to severe injuries that make it hard for them to get around or live independently, and increase their risk of early death.
  • Older adults are hospitalized for fall-related injuries five times more often than they are for injuries from other causes.
  • In 2009, emergency departments treated 2.4 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults; more than 662,000 of these patients had to be hospitalized.
  • Direct costs are what patients and insurance companies pay for treating fall-related injuries. These costs include fees for hospital and nursing home care, doctors and other professional services, rehabilitation, community-based services, use of medical equipment, prescription drugs, changes made to the home, and insurance processing.
  • Direct costs do not account for the long-term effects of these injuries such as disability, dependence on others, lost time from work and household duties, and reduced quality of life.  
  • In 2000, the total direct medical costs of all fall injuries for people 65 and older exceeded $19 billion: $0.2 billion for fatal falls, and $19 billion for nonfatal falls.
  • By 2020, the annual direct and indirect cost of fall injuries is expected to reach $54.9 billion (in 2007 dollars).
  • Among community-dwelling older adults, fall-related injury is one of the 20 most expensive medical conditions.
  • In 2002, about 22% of community-dwelling seniors reported falling in the previous year. Medicare costs per fall averaged between $9,113 and $13,507.
  • Among community-dwelling seniors treated for fall injuries, 65% of direct medical costs were for inpatient hospitalizations; 10% each for medical office visits and home health care, 8% for hospital outpatient visits, 7% for emergency room visits, and 1% each for prescription drugs and dental visits. About 78% of these costs were reimbursed by Medicare.
  • In a study of people age 72 and older, the average health care cost of a fall injury totaled $19,440, which included hospital, nursing home, emergency room, and home health care, but not doctors' services.
  • The costs of fall injuries increase rapidly with age.
  • In 2000, the costs of both fatal and nonfatal falls were higher for women than for men.
  • In 2000, medical costs for women, who comprised 58% of older adults, were two to three times higher than the costs for men.
  • In 2000, the direct medical cost of fatal fall injuries totaled $179 million. About 78% of fall deaths, and 79% of total costs, were due to traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and injuries to the lower extremities.
  • Injuries to internal organs were responsible for 28% of fall deaths and accounted for 29% of costs.
  • Fractures were both the most common and most costly nonfatal injuries. Just over one-third of nonfatal injuries were fractures, but these accounted for 61% of total nonfatal costs—or $12 billion.
  • Hospitalizations accounted for nearly two-thirds of the costs of nonfatal fall injuries and emergency department treatment accounted for 20%.
  • On average, the hospitalization cost for a fall injury is $17,500.
  • Hip fractures are the most frequent type of fall-related fracture. The average hospitalization cost was $18,000; this was 44% of the direct medical costs for hip fractures.

The following information is from America Now's interview with Linda Miller, Community Services Coordinator, at the Centralina Area Agency on Aging in Charlotte, NC.

  • One-third of fall accidents involving the elderly occur in familiar surroundings and a person's home is where many falls occur.
  • Be aware of things on the floor like excess clutter and clothing items. Hazards also exist outside your home so be sure to rake or sweep leaves away from walkways, stairs or decks. When it rains, the leaves can be really slick on your sidewalk.
  • Examine the threshold transitions inside your home where the flooring changes from wood, carpet or tile. Make sure these areas are as smooth as possible to prevent tripping.
  • Get your vision checked annually and have the lens in your glasses changed if necessary. Bifocals can also be hard for the elderly to adjust to when looking up and down.
  • Have your hearing tested regularly. Being able to hear what's going on around you may prevent a fall so you're not startled by an approaching pet or person. 
  • Clutter is a big problem for the elderly. In many cases, seniors downsize from a larger home to a smaller apartment and the amount of furniture or other objects can be crammed into a smaller space. Make sure there are clear pathways in your home to avoid tripping.
  • You may need to seek the assistance of a professional to help your loved one understand the need for getting rid of some of the objects that could cause them to fall. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging because they will likely be able to connect you with the right person in your area who can help.  
  • Sometimes bringing in a third-party therapist or a home organizer is a better option to help with the process of decluttering an older person's home. An aging parent may not be able to accept advice from their child urging the parent to get rid of items.
  • We use a program call "A Matter of Balance" to teach the elderly common ways people fall around the house as well as exercises you can do to increase your strength and improve your balance.
  • Analyze some of the things you don't do because you are afraid you might fall. Realize you can still do them, but you just need to change the way you do them and increase your confidence. This will allow you to get out there and continue enjoying the things you want to do. 
  • Pets are wonderful companions, but you need to be very aware of where they are at all times. If you are not paying attention, they could circle around your feet, get excited and jump up causing you to lose your balance and fall.

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.

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