Medical Moment: Preventing elderly falls

Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 8:44 PM EST
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Every 20 minutes, an older adult dies from injuries sustained from a fall.

In fact, falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury and fracture for seniors.

The annual medical costs of treating people who fall is an estimated $30 billion. And that number is expected to rise as the population ages.

But there are things you can do to decrease your risk of falling.

“I laid in the yard for about two and a half hours before the next-door neighbor saw me laying there,” says Sarah Grant.

“I had fallen so often, and I was on a first name basis with the firefighters,” says Patricia Bersche.

Sarah and Patricia laugh about it now, but falls are frightening and common for older adults.

in fact, older adults without any risk factors have a 25 to 33 percent chance of falling. But if you have four or more risk factors, you have an 80 percent chance of falling.

Occupational Therapist Susan Stark spearheaded a study to see if in-home behavioral intervention changed the odds of falling.

“It can be things like adding a grab rail or changing the way you do something, like turning on a light before you walk down the stairs,” Stark says.

Occupational Therapist Emily Somerville visited Sarah three times. She witnessed firsthand what Sarah was doing that put her in harm’s way.

“So, we added this grab bar here for these two steps as she comes down or up the stairs, down here,” Somerville says.

Other simple, but effective solutions include adding a grab bar for getting in and out of the shower, and on and off the toilet. A tub bench can also help get in and out safely. Stark’s study saw a 40 percent reduction in falls.

“So, we didn’t only reduce falls, we actually reduced overall healthcare costs,” Stark says.

The study found they were saving over two dollars on medical care for every dollar spent in prevention.

While there is evidence to support the cost-benefit of home modification in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany, this study is the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of a community-based approach in the United States.

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