Climbing fall-related death rates create major statewide epidemic
|Physical therapy is frequently part of the recovery process that seniors face after incurring fall-related injuries. Falls can be devastating for seniors, ending or changing the victims' lives for good.
In Utah, the fall death rate for men ages 65 and older jumped 134 percent from 1999 to 2003. The rate for older women rose 16 percent during the same period.
The state death rates compare to national increases of 27 percent for males and 34 percent for females.
Falling for senior citizens is a major problem, one that needs addressing.
The Utah Department of Health recently released a report reviewing all fall-related injuries among adults 65 and older for the years 1999-2004.
The injuries noted in the report accounted for 412 deaths, nearly 16,000 hospitalizations and more than 53,000 emergency department visits during the time period.
To call the public's attention to the fall epidemic, Gov. John Hunstman recognized June 27 as Falls Awareness Day in a proclamation signing.
More than one-third of U.S. seniors fall each year and many of the injuries incurred in the related accidents are fatal.
For every one fall-related death in Utah's seniors, there are 39 injuries requiring hospitalization and 130 emergency department visits, according to the statewide data.
There are also an unknown number of fall injuries treated in other locations like urgent care clinics and doctor's offices.
"Falls are the number one cause of injury among older adults in Utah,"noted Trisha Keller, UDOH violence and injury prevention program manager.
"Fall-related injuries are an ever present threat to the health and well being of our seniors and the costs to treat these injuries are a huge burden on families, society, and the health care system," continued the state health department program manager.
According to the data compiled by the health department, charges for emergency room visits by seniors for injuries related to falls doubled from $3.5 million in 1999 to $7.1 million in 2004.
Hospitalization costs rose from $28.8 million to $47.4 million.
A 2003 behavioral risk factor surveillance system survey found that 14.5 percent or 29,000 Utah seniors ages 65 and older reported falling in the three months prior to the poll.
Utah's survey response was similar to the national rate of 13.4 percent.
As the Utah population ages, the number of injuries associated will falling accidents will continue to climb.
"The findings in this report are meant to increase awareness and help older Utahns who hope to spend their golden years in their own homes and free from injuries," pointed out Keller.
To prevent fall-related injuries, the department of health program recommends that Carbon County seniors take several important steps to protect themselves.
Carbon seniors should:
Work with family members and health care providers to assess their medical risks for falling, including:
Have an annual physical examination.
Schedule annual eye examinations.
Review medications for possible sideeffects and interactions.
Be screened for osteoporosis.
If recommended by a doctor, local residents should begin a strengthening/exercising program.
Check residences for hazards and correct problems as necessary.
Examples of hazards include unstable furniture, loose throw rugs, slippery bathroom mats, loose or missing stair railings, poor lighting, electrical cords in walkways, clutter and the lack of grab bars installed near toilets as well as in tubs/showers.
When choosing footwear, local residents should be very selective.
Flat shoes with sturdy, non-slip soles and good ankle support are the best to buy and to wear.
Slippers are often too unstable and should not be worn.
Wearing socks without shoes is also dangerous, especially on wood, tile or other smooth surfaces.
Finally, local residents should avoid shoes with heels and replace old or poorly fitting footwear.