“Help, I've fallen, and I can't get up!”
These words conjure up memories of TV commercials from the 90’s. If the consequences of falls weren’t so terrible, one might call it a meme. At the same time, these words did a lot of good to raise awareness of the seriousness of falls.
According to the National Council on Aging, “Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. Falls threaten seniors’ safety and independence and generate enormous economic and personal costs.” (Visit ncoa.org for more information.)
My wife and I were surprised when we learned this. We are led to believe that cancer or heart disease are the biggest culprits, but it turns out that if we live to old age the risk of these diseases actually decreases. Some chronic illnesses increase the likelihood of falling, but it is falling itself that is the biggest killer.
Although only 1 out of 5 falls causes a serious injury like a broken bone or head injury, over 3 million older people are still treated in emergency departments for fall related injuries each year. The Centers for Disease Control reported that in 2015 the total medical costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion dollars and Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.
The personal costs associated with falling are large as well; on average the hospital cost for a fall injury is over $30,000. This is a drop in the bucket compared to all the social services needed after hospitalization, not to mention lost productivity of family and friends. In total, a fall can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
All is not lost though… falls can be prevented. There are some simple things we can do to prevent falls. 1) Talk to your doctor about evaluating your risk for falling and reviewing medications that you’re taking. 2) Exercise your legs to make them stronger and improve overall balance. 3) Visit an eye doctor annually and update eyeglasses as needed. 4) Make helpful modifications to your home and remove tripping hazards.
Falls don’t have to mean the end. And if you fall, with some help, you can get back up.