When it comes to older adults and falling, the statistics are alarming. Health officials report that more than one-third of Americans ages 65 and above suffers from a fall each year. What’s more, falls are reported to be the leading cause of injury deaths and life-altering disability among this age group, as well as the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), people 65 years of age and above have the highest rate of traumatic brain injury-related hospitalizations and death. Among patients treated at the Cooper Trauma Center alone, falls are the leading mechanism of injury in people ages 65 and above, and the second leading mechanism of injury for all other age groups.
“The rate of falls is increasing,” said Alfred C. Tomaio, MD, Director of the Fall Prevention Program at Cooper Neurological Institute. “Research is being performed in Cooper’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department and the Trauma Division demonstrating this. People are living longer, and, as people grow older, the development of various health conditions, physical problems, and/or the use of more medications can increase the chance of a fall. Left undetected, these difficulties put older people at increased risk for serious – and often times fatal – injuries, such as hip fractures, intracranial bleeding, and head trauma, including concussion.
“What’s important,” Dr. Tomaio said, “is early intervention: identifying the cause of the physical instability and determining the appropriate treatment and safety measures to help prevent the injuries, illnesses, loss of function, and fatalities that too frequently result from unintentional falls.”
Dr. Tomaio noted that even a fear of falling can hamper mobility in the elderly and affect their quality of life. “Some people become so afraid of their physical instability that they won’t even attempt to be mobile,” he said.
The Fall Prevention Program at the Cooper Neurological Institute addresses all of these issues through a multidisciplinary team of medical specialists. The team works collaboratively to identify, reduce or eliminate the treatable, underlying causes of a patient’s risk for falls. Physiatrists (doctors of physical medicine and rehabilitation), neurologists, neurosurgeons and orthopaedists work in conjunction with primary care physicians, endocrinologists, rheumatologists, cardiologists, trauma physicians, pharmacists, physical therapists and other medical specialists and health professionals to determine the optimal course of treatment for a variety of balance- and gait-related conditions to prevent falls.
The Cooper Neurological Institute’s Fall Prevention Program, in conjunction with Cooper University Hospital’s Trauma Program, also extends itself to the community at-large through free, educational presentations at area senior citizen centers and clubs. To learn more about this free, fall-prevention-education service, call David E. Groves, Trauma Outreach Coordinator, at 856.342.3430.
Also, Cooper’s Emergency Medicine Department and Trauma Center are working to introduce a fall-prevention pilot program in Camden to help minimize the risk of fall-related traumatic injury among the city’s senior citizens, via in-home assessments for risk factors. According to Kathleen Devine, RN, Senior Director of Emergency/Trauma Services at Cooper, one in 27 of the senior citizens in Camden who are treated or admitted to area hospitals is the victim of a fall. “Our hope is to take this program regionally, and provide in-home assessments for individual risk factors for patients who have received hospital care related to a fall,” Devine said.
With each successive year, as the baby-boomer population ages, the number of older adults in America continues to grow. The CDC estimates that by the year 2030, there will be 71.5 million senior citizens in the United States, representing a 20 percent increase over today’s 65+ population.
“The problems that can occur from unintentional falls among the elderly not only impact the individuals who fall but also their families and their communities, as such problems are associated with substantial physical, psycho-social and economic burden,” Devine said.
“Preventing a fall really is the priority,” said Dr. Tamaio. “What Cooper’s Fall Prevention Program aims to do is identify people at-risk both before they fall and after. There are a lot of people out there with balance or dizziness issues who haven’t fallen yet. These are people we want to help, the people who can greatly benefit from preventative care.”
Safety At Home
The Fall Prevention Program at the Cooper Neurological Institute offers these home-safety tips to help prevent falls:
- Keep rooms free of clutter, especially on floors.
- Keep floor surfaces smooth but not slippery.
- Wear supportive, low-heeled shoes even at home.
- Avoid walking in socks, stockings or slippers.
- Be sure carpets and area rugs have skid-proof backing or are tacked to the floor.
- Be sure stairwells are well lit and that stairs have handrails on both sides.
- Install grab bars on bathroom walls near tub, shower and toilet.
- Use a rubber bath mat in shower or tub.
- Keep a flashlight with fresh batteries beside your bed.
- If using a step stool for hard-to-reach areas, use a sturdy one with a handrail and wide steps.
- Add ceiling fixtures to rooms lit by lamps.