Falls: Leading Cause Of Fatal Injuries For Seniors

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The Department of Public Health (DPH) recently released the most comprehensive report to date on falls among older adults in the state. The report, titled Unintentional Fall-Related Injuries among Massachusetts Older Adults, includes data on how falls and fall-related injuries disproportionately affect older adults, the impact that these injuries have on health care costs in the state, and a series of recommendations to reduce the frequency of falls and fall-related injuries among elders.

The report showed that in 2006 alone, 340 Massachusetts residents aged 65 years and older died due to falls. During this same time period, there were over 20,000 hospital stays and almost 37,000 emergency department discharges associated with nonfatal unintentional fall injuries in that same age group. The economic costs of falls and fall-related injuries were equally high: hospital charges for fall-related visits in the state were almost $500 million in FY 2006.

“We know that falls are largely preventable,” said DPH Commissioner John Auerbach. “Everyone has a role to play in reducing fall-related injuries among older adults – from family members and loved ones to health care providers, public health professionals and policymakers.”

On a statewide level, DPH is working with a variety of partners on a series of initiatives focused on reducing falls among older adults. These include the Massachusetts Falls Coalition, a partnership of more than 55 state, local and community organizations aimed at reducing the number of falls both at home, community and health care settings; and a partnership between DPH and the Executive Office of Elder Affairs to implement proven programs to help seniors prevent falls and better manage their health.

"Our senior centers and councils on aging offer regularly scheduled multi-week classes to help seniors identify and correct home hazards, improve balance, and strengthen muscles," said Executive Office of Elder Affairs Secretary Mike Festa. "Working with DPH and the Falls Coalition, we are determined to reverse the increase in falls among elderly Massachusetts residents."

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The report includes a wide range of scientifically proven ways to prevent falls among elders, including:

* Staying active and regularly exercising to improve balance;

* Reviewing and managing medications that affect balance, vision and cognition with a health care provider, such as a doctor, nurse practitioner or pharmacist;

* Getting regular vision examinations and bone mass density screenings;

* Eating regular meals including foods rich with calcium and vitamin D to prevent and manage osteoporosis;

* And making homes safer by installing railings and grab bars where needed, and removing clutter and scatter rugs.

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