Every second of every day in the United States an older adult falls, making falls the number one cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older Americans.
In 2014 alone, older Americans experienced 29 million falls causing seven million injuries and costing an estimated $31 billion in annual Medicare costs, according to a new report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).
The new numbers are being released in conjunction with the 9th Falls Prevention Awareness Day, sponsored by the National Council on Aging (NCOA). The observance addresses the growing public health issue and promotes evidence-based prevention programs and strategies to reduce the more than 27,000 fall deaths in older adults each year.
“Older adult falls are increasing and, sadly, often herald the end of independence,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Healthcare providers can make fall prevention a routine part of care in their practice, and older adults can take steps to protect themselves.”
With more than 10,000 older Americans turning 65 each day, the number of fall-related injuries and deaths is expected to surge, resulting in cost increases unless preventive measures are taken.
STEADI helps healthcare providers make fall prevention routine
To reduce older adult falls, CDC created the Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries (STEADI) initiative to help healthcare providers make fall prevention routine. STEADI is based on clinical guidelines and provides information and resources for patients, caregivers, and all members of the healthcare team. STEADI includes:
Information on how to screen for falls
Online training for providers
Videos on how to conduct functional assessments
Informational brochures for providers, patients and caregivers
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is working with healthcare providers to help keep older adults safe from falls. It all starts with three steps that healthcare providers can easily integrate into routine office visits.
At each visit, healthcare providers should:
Ask patients if they have fallen in the past year, feel unsteady, or worry about falling.
Review medications and stop, switch, or reduce the dose of medications that could increase the risk of falls.
Recommend vitamin D supplements.
“Falls threaten older Americans’ independence and safety and generate enormous economic and personal costs that affect everyone,” said Grant Baldwin, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention. “Together, everyone can reduce the risk of falling and prevent fall injuries.”
Reduced muscle strength, increased inactivity, more severe chronic health conditions, and increased use of prescription medications are risk factors for falls among older Americans. Fall injury rates are almost seven times higher for older adults with poor health than for those with excellent health.
How older adults can reduce their risk of falling
Older adults also can take simple steps to prevent a fall:
Talk to your healthcare provider about falls and fall prevention. Tell your provider if you’ve had a recent fall. Although one out of four older Americans falls each year, less than half tell their doctor.
Talk to your provider or pharmacist about medications that may make you more likely to fall.
Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor once a year. Update eyeglasses as needed.
Participate in evidence-based programs (like Tai Chi) that can improve your balance and strengthen your legs. Contact your local Council on Aging for information about what is available in your community.
Make your home safer by getting rid of fall hazards.
For more information on the NCOA, see https://www.ncoa.org/.
For more information on CDC’s STEADI initiative, see https://www.cdc.gov/steadi.
For more information about Administration on Community Living falls prevention programs, see www.aoa.acl.gov/AoA_Programs/HPW/Falls_Prevention/index.aspx