iStock_000007924048_LargePreventing Falls among Older Adults

A fall can be a devastating event for an older adult and the people in their lives who care for them. The good news is that most falls are preventable. There are proven methods and programs shown to reduce the likelihood of a fall. However, to give the opportunity to North Carolina’s 1.3 million1 seniors to stay safe from a fall injury, much investment is needed. This investment can’t come soon enough—the state’s older adult population is skyrocketing along with the rate of falls. To stop the staggering cost of falls in both human suffering and healthcare costs, action is needed now!

What can be done to prevent falls among older adults?

  • Allocate funds to the North Carolina Division of Public Health to support a statewide falls prevention program to implement programs that are proven to work.
  • Support policies that create safe streets and sidewalks that are free from environmental hazards and where seniors will feel safe exercising.
  • Reinstitute the CheckMeds, NC program for Medicare Prescription Drug Plan enrollees to have access to medication reviews that can prevent falls.
  • Become an advocate for fall prevention by learning about and sharing the serious health and economic impact fall injuries have for North Carolina.

What Works to Prevent Falls:

  • Engaging in community-based programs such as a Matter of Balance, Otago, Stepping On, or Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance. These programs are proven to reduce the fear of falling and falls by 30-55%.*
  • Having a health care provider screen for falls risk factors such as problems with balance.
  • Reviewing prescription medications with a pharmacist to check for interactions that can increase the risk of falling.
  • Addressing vision and hearing problems.
  • Making home and outside environments safer.

Facts about falls in North Carolina:

  • On average, there are more than 531 visits to a North Carolina emergency department due to a fall EVERY DAY, adding up to 193,805 visits per year.2
  • Falls are a huge burden to county EMS offices: in one year in Orange County, it is estimated that 1,100 dispatches were for a fall, costing approximately $440 each time.3
  • The rate of deaths from falls in North Carolina is steadily increasing and has gone up an alarming 70% since 1999. Using a rate takes into account changes in population, so this reflects an actual increase in falls, not just the larger population.4
  • The older adult population in North Carolina is growing quickly: by 2025, 89 of North Carolina’s 100 counties will have more people over the age of 60 than under the age of 17.6

Current Falls Prevention Efforts in North Carolina:

Since 2008, the North Carolina Falls Prevention Coalition, a group of over 70 agencies, has worked to spread awareness about falls prevention. The Coalition consists of community agencies, health professionals, aging specialists, and nationally-recognized researchers who have the knowledge about what works to prevent falls. With the right resources, the Coalition’s partners can take falls prevention statewide and reduce unnecessary pain, suffering, and health care costs for the state’s older adults.

For More Information Please Contact:
Ellen C. Schneider, MBA

Research Scientist
U NC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
Carolina Geriatric Education Center, UNC School of Medicine
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
1 700 MLK Jr. Blvd., CB 7426
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7426
ecschnei@email.unc.edu
919-966-9402

References:

  1. 2012 US Census. Retrieved from www.census.gov
  2. NC Division of Public Health, Injury and Violence Prevention Branch. (August 2011). Unintentional falls in North Carolina. Retrieved from http://www.injuryfreenc.ncdhhs.gov/DataSurveillance/Falls%20NC%202009%20Fact%20sheet%20update2011.pdf
  3. Orange County, North Carolina EMS Data presented by Tiffany Shubert, PhD at the North Carolina Falls Prevention Coalition Meeting August June 19, 2013.
  4. NC Division of Public Health, Injury and Violence Prevention Branch. (2012, October 31). Fall Injury Data. Retrieved from http://www.injuryfreenc.ncdhhs.gov/DataSurveillance/FallsData.htm.
  5. Stevens JA, Sogolow ED. Preventing Falls: What Works. A CDC Compendium of Effective Community-Based Interventions from Around the World. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2015 Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/images/cdccompendium_030508-a.pdf
  6. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Aging and Adult Services. Retrieved from http://www.ncdhhs.gov/aging/cprofile/2012Profile.pdf

* Matter of Balance: participants experienced significant increases in falls efficacy, falls management, and falls control at six weeks, six months, and 12 months; Otago: fall rate was reduced by 35 percent among program participants; Stepping On shown effective in reducing falls among older adults by about 30 percent; Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance participants had fewer falls and fewer fall injuries, and their risk of falling was reduced by 55 percent.3

The National Council on Aging Matter of Balance Overview accessed at http://www.ncoa.org/improve-health/center-for-healthy-aging/a-matter-of-balance.html#sthash.5ApEbWwN.dpuf