Fall Prevention Awareness Week
Falls fundamentally alter the shape and nature of an older person’s life. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of hospital admissions for trauma and death from injury. Notably, there are two aspects of falls that strike intimidatingly in the minds of people: falls can easily occur and, with so many aging Americans, catastrophic falls are occurring at a higher frequency. Not only are injury and death often the result of a fall but falls also create a much greater likelihood that the fallen elderly will no longer live independently.
The loss of independence can have cascading damages, both psychologically and physically, leading to lower confidence levels, isolation and loneliness. Sadly, it is all too easy for someone over the age of 65 to have their life completely upended. That is part of the reason why both state and national campaign efforts have led to the creation of heightened awareness campaigns around the problem of falls – and how to prevent falls.
Initiatives that have sprung up in many states across the country are trying to bring, and have already brought, greater awareness to the issue. This year, the National Council on Aging declared September 21-25, 2020, fall prevention awareness week. In this post, we are going to talk about these events: the fall awareness prevention campaign, where it is occurring, why it is picked up steam, and how it aims to serve both those over 65 years as well as their loved ones.
GROWING AWARENESS OF THE PROBLEM
Since 2008, as advocated by the Falls Free State Coalitions on Fall Prevention Workgroup, the first day of fall was deemed Fall Prevention Awareness Day. Gaining broad support, the U.S. Senate took up the issue and, in 2019, it officially made September 23 of that year National Fall Prevention Awareness Day. But this declaration had been preceded by state legislatures — including Washington, Texas, Oregon, New Jersey, New Mexico, Connecticut, California and others — implementing policies to encourage investment in research and awareness around the problem of falls that frequently plague elderly Americans and disrupt their lives.
Federal and state governments have made fall prevention a primary concern for many reasons. As aforementioned, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults. Furthermore, the number of older adults is expanding rapidly. The number of Americans over 65 is projected to almost double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, proportionally making older adults about one-quarter of the population.
Due to the increasing number of older adults, and the fact that they are living longer, older Americans are likely to experience more physical problems, and those issues have occupied a greater concern for America’s public health system more broadly. One of those complications — one of the most glaring, dangerous and easily avoidable issues — are falls. And those accidents, which happen every 20 minutes, are not cheap.
Medicare injuries related to falls total over $31 billion annually. Per person, falls cost about $1,049. In the aggregate, costs to the American healthcare system average $50 billion from falls. Hospital stays due to falls for older Americans typically last about 22 days, with hip fracture-related injuries typically lasting a few days longer. Those hospital stays sometimes create more problems, as an elderly person is more likely to have complications after contracting a disease in that environment.
In short, because of all the adverse effects falls have for the fallen, their families and their support networks, there has been growing, bipartisan consensus among Democratic and Republican lawmakers that some interventions need take root. One thing the public can do, it is believed, is maintain greater awareness of the problem. As of 2019, there were as many as 49 states participating in fall prevention awareness campaigns for the month of September. Nationally, this year, fall prevention awareness week is September 21-25.
FALL PREVENTION WEEK: WHAT YOU CAN DO
There are many ways to participate in fall prevention awareness week. The first, easiest, and maybe most obvious way, is to spend time with an elderly person you know and be an advocate for them. That is, talk with them about the danger of falls and ask them what they are doing to protect themselves from these possibly fatal occurrences.
Falls, as aforementioned, are easily avoidable. The surrounding environment is supremely important: wet, slick and oily floors are a danger as are debris left in walkways, protruding floorboards or nails, uneven rugs or carpeting, poorly maintained ladders, and long, dangling cords from oxygen tanks.
Additionally, it may be a good idea to ask your older friend or loved one what they are doing to make them less likely to slide, trip or fall, resulting an injurious spill. Tai Chi, as mentioned in a previous post, is a notable way to increase strength and stability, greatly reducing fall risk by as much as 58%, according to one study.
You can also ask the elder about their clothing habits. If they are wearing footwear that has too much give, it could cause their foot to catch a carpet. An older individual should be particularly weary of wearing sandals, socks, slippers or anything that does not maintain much traction.
Personal interactions aside, there’s much people can do in groups – either with social distance or via webchat calls — to galvanize the community to spread awareness on a greater level of the dangers of falls. People can play prevention-themed games, like Bingo; hold fall prevention workshops; welcome guest speakers from your local fire department, hospital or physical therapy center to talk about falls; host a fall prevention discussion or panel; or set up a footwear checks station to identify unsafe footwear at work.
In addition to these suggestions, people can contact a myriad of organizations — national, statewide or local — to gain more perspective on how to raise consciousness around the problem of falls. A small list of those organizations includes the Administration for Community Living, American Occupational Therapy Association, YMCA of the USA, Safe States Alliance and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.