In the United States, approximately 10,000 annual deaths result from falls in people age 65 or older, and this same population accounts for 87% of all emergency room fractures (1,2). Although men and women report similar fall rate statistics according to the Utah Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) data, women incur 75-80% of all fall related hip fractures and this risk increases with advancing age (1,2,3). One fourth of individuals who sustain hip fractures die within one year and nearly 50% never return to their prior level of independence (1). Additionally, individuals who fall often undergo significant psychological hardship, resulting in the fear of falling and a consequent reduction in physical activity (2). This sedentary behavior not only decreases quality of life and increases risk for falls, but it is also counterproductive for those who suffer from co-morbidities that are mitigated by physical activity. Considering that 41.3% of respondents in the BRFSS study reported poor health prior to falling, this issue is not trivial (3).
Increasing age is associated with injury-related falls. Women experience more fall-related injuries than men (1,2,3). Furthermore, muscle weakness, balance problems, diminished vision, blood pressure medications and medications causing drowsiness all increase the incidence of falls in this population. Approximately half of all falls occur within the individual’s home due to environmental obstacles such as icy steps, uneven ground, loose electrical cords, throw rugs, and other miscellaneous objects which may leave an individual prone to tripping. Considering that both physical and environmental factors increase fall risk, fall prevention programs must be multifaceted for maximal effectiveness (2).
The most effective fall prevention programs include the combination of pharmacologic modification, physical therapy/exercise interventions, and environmental modifications. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) examined fall prevention programs nation wide, categorizing them based on the extensiveness of addressing fall risk factors. The “exceptional” programs were categorized as those that “provide comprehensive education about preventing falls, home assessments and/or safety checklists, and access to home repairs.” Eighteen programs qualified for this distinction in 12 states, including one in Price, Utah (2). Addressing the physical signs of aging with exercise should also be advocated. More information on how to reduce your risk of falls is available at: www.cdc.gov/ncipc/pubres/toolkit/falls%20BrochCOLORpanels.pdf.
The Skeletal Muscle Exercise Research Facility (SMERF) and University Rehabilitation and Wellness Clinic at the University of Utah are currently conducting both clinical programs and research in the area of fall prevention. www.health.utah.edu/pt/research/index.html
- Utah Department of Health. Available online at http://health.utah.gov/vipp/. Accessed January 28, 2007 keywords: Utah, Violence and Injury prevention
program, older adults.
- Parra EK, Stevens JA. U.S. Fall Prevention Programs for Seniors: Selected Programs Using Home Assessment and Home Modification. Atlanta, GA:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2000.
- Utah Department of Health. Available online at http://health.utah.gov. Accessed January 28, 2007. Search keywords: health status update, senior falls.