Falls Are the Leading Cause of Injury Among Older Adults in NY State

​One in four upstate New York adults older than age 65 fell at least once in the last year, according to research by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. Forty percent, or two in five of those who fell, experienced an injury.

Using two years of self-reported survey data from government health agencies, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield found that falls are common among upstate New York adults ages 65 and older. The risk for falling and the severity of an injury increase with age.

"There are simple things that everyone can do right now for themselves and their loved ones to help reduce the incidence of falls and promote independent and active lifestyles."

Bruce Naughton, MD, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield VP and Chief Medical Officer for Medicare

Of upstate New Yorkers age 65 to 69:
24 percent fell in the last 12 months
32 percent were injured from a fall

Of upstate New Yorkers age 80+:
31 percent fell in the last 12 months
44 percent were injured from a fall

“One finding of concern − but we frankly have no explanation for it − is the regional variation in the rate of falls per 1,000 population ages 65 and older,” said Bruce Naughton, MD, vice president and chief medical officer for Medicare. The data show that adults ages 65 and older in the Utica-Rome-North Country region reported falls at more than twice the rate of adults 65+ in the Finger Lakes region, where the rate of reported falls was lower than state and upstate New York averages.

“Falling is not an accepted part of the aging process in any region,” said Naughton. “There are simple things that everyone can do right now for themselves and their loved ones to help reduce the incidence of falls and promote independent and active lifestyles.”  

Lower body weakness and difficulty with balance are risk factors for falling. Naughton advises staying active and maintaining a fitness routine. Simple activities, such as exercising in a chair or stretching in bed, can greatly improve strength and balance. Finding a fitness partner can add the motivation to go for walks, take a dip in a local pool or even learn tai chi.

Certain medications can affect balance. People also are more likely to fall if they have vision problems or inadequate nutrition. According to Naughton, proper vision care (including up-to-date eyeglass prescriptions), proper nutrition and a thorough medication review can help cut down on falls.

Nationally, one in five falls causes serious harm, such as a broken bone or a head injury.

Among older New York state residents who are hospitalized because of a fall, 60 percent go to a nursing home or rehab facility, 27 percent experience a hip fracture, and 11 percent suffer a traumatic brain injury. 

The estimated annual impact that falls have on health care spending in upstate New York is substantial, according to a report issued by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in 2012. That report shows $30.6 million in emergency room costs and $321.0 million in hospital costs directly related to falls. 

Home hazards contribute to the incidence of falls.

“We all take great care to childproof our homes when there are toddlers running about,” said Naughton. “We need to give the same attention to eliminating tripping hazards for older adults, or anyone who has difficulty with walking or balance.”  

The most common tripping hazards include:

·    Throw rugs that bunch or slide.

·    Clutter.

·    Steps that are uneven, too steep or too long, and that have inadequate railings.

·    Lighting that’s either too dim, or so bright that it causes glare.

·    Pets that follow too closely or lie in prime walking areas.

·    Unstable chairs or tables that can’t support a person’s weight.

·    Extension cords across walkways.

·    Bathrooms that lack grab bars, or that have low toilet seats.

·    Sloping yards and driveways.

·    Cracks in sidewalks, or uneven transitions between bare floors and carpeted rooms. 

“We can and should encourage people to stay active as they age, keep their doctors informed about any issues with balance or vision, and eliminate easy tripping hazards around the house and yard to reduce fall-related injuries, emergency room visits and hospital stays,” said Naughton.

For more information on fall prevention, a downloadable Excellus BlueCross BlueShield infographic is online at http://tinyurl.com/z3eyl6g. View Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s findings in more detail, online at http://tinyurl.com/jsbls4x.

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Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, a nonprofit independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association, is part of a family of companies that finances and delivers vital health care services to about 1.5 million people across upstate New York. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield provides access to high-quality, affordable health coverage, including valuable health-related resources that our members use every day, such as cost-saving prescription drug discounts and wellness tracking tools. To learn more, visit excellusbcbs.com.

Source: Excellus BlueCross BlueShield