By Julia Costitch
Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center
Falls are a serious concern for older adults everywhere. The consequences can be life-changing or even life-ending, especially when head injuries are involved. See video here:
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans 65 and older have serious falls every year. In Kentucky, over 150 older adults die every year from the consequences of falls, often after extended hospital stays and nursing home care. Some 17,000 older Kentuckians have fall-related emergency department visits, and nearly 5,000 are hospitalized every year.
The Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC) is part of a statewide effort to design a coordinated fall prevention program for older adults. With our partners in the Kentucky Safety and Prevention Alignment Network, we're working to identify possible funding sources.
Falls have wide-ranging human and economic costs. There is a well-documented tendency for people who have been injured by falls to restrict their activities, thus losing important social and emotional support. Family members may need to give up paid employment to care for a relative injured by a fall, or the relative may lose the ability to live independently and move in with family caregivers.
While most of the hospital cost for Kentuckians over 65 is covered through the federal Medicare program, subsequent nursing home and home health coverage under Medicare is limited. Low-income Kentuckians who need extended care are likely to exhaust their resources and become eligible for Medicaid, a program that is second only to public education in its share of Kentucky’s state budget. Thus, fall prevention in older adults is important for all Kentuckians, not just those identified as being at high risk of falling.
The evidence supporting fall prevention is strong, and older Kentuckians can take many preventive steps at low cost. Among the effective measures to prevent falls are:
· exercising moderately to strengthen muscles and maintain balance,
· keeping frequently used items within easy reach without the use of stepladders,
· clearing the home of obvious risks such as trailing cords and loose rugs,
· screening at health visits for risk factors such as sensory deficits, medication usage, or environmental dangers,
· learning about how to avoid common risks,
· making simple home modifications, such as grab bars and improved lighting, and
· following up on referrals for any needed therapies and medication reviews.
Many Kentucky communities provide services and programs that promote independence and reduce the risk of falls. Further information is available from the local Area Agencies on Aging and Independent Living at http://chfs.ky.gov/dail/areaagenciesonaging.htm, by calling the Kentucky Safe Aging Coalition at the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center, (859)257-4954, through your local Cooperative Extension Office, or from your local or district health department at http://chfs.ky.gov/dph/Local+Health+Department.htm.
A companion video commentary for this column can be viewed online athttp://w2.uky.edu/UKPR/images/videos/yourhealth090726.mov
Julia Costich is director of the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC) and chair and associate professor in the Department of Health Management, University of Kentucky College of Public Health.