Each year, 15,000 older adults in upstate New York are hospitalized as a result of injuries due to falls, according to a new Excellus BlueCross BlueShield report.
The falls, which often occur in the home and are preventable, can trigger a chain of events, including long-term rehabilitation, nursing home care and even death. Annual hospitalization costs in upstate New York related to falls average $370 million.
“It’s standard practice to childproof our homes when a new baby arrives, and it should be standard practice to retrofit our homes as we age to prevent falls and subsequent injuries,” said Arthur Vercillo, M.D., regional president, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
More than 50 percent of fall-related hospitalizations among older adults in New York are from falls that occurred in the home.
In compiling The Facts About Fall Incidence and Costs Among Older Adults (ages 65+) in Upstate New York, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield found that an estimated one-third of U.S. adults ages 65 and older fall each year. In New York, falls are the No. 1 cause of death due to unintentional injury in this age group.
In Central New York, 2,750 older adults (ages 65+) are hospitalized each year because of a fall, incurring $69 million in related hospitalization costs.
“This is an area of preventive medicine that demands more attention,” said Vercillo.
Avoiding falls, the key to maintaining independence, is of great concern to the baby boom generation as it continues to age. The number of people in the 65 and older age group is expected to increase 16.3 percent by the year 2020 and 19.6 percent by 2030.
Of New York adults ages 65 and older who are hospitalized for a fall, 60 percent are admitted to a rehabilitation center or nursing home.
“A fall can be physically, emotionally and financially catastrophic to an older adult who, until that point, had maintained an independent lifestyle,” said Vercillo. “Eliminating home hazards is the key.”
Home hazards include:
• Clutter in walkways and on stairs.
• Slippery or inconsistent floor surfaces, including area rugs and bath/shower mats.
• Unstable furniture.
• Poor or inadequate lighting, especially at night.
• Pets and pet-related objects.
• Lack of stair railings or grab bars.
• Lack of easy access to bathrooms.
“In addition to modifying their physical surroundings to prevent falls, older adults need to address their physical condition,” advises Vercillo. Some things to check include:
• Poor eyesight can increase the risk of falling, so annual eye exams and up-to-date prescription lenses are important.
• Sensible and properly fitting shoes improve stability.
• Weak muscles can increase the risk of falling, so staying active by walking and adopting an exercise regimen that promotes balance and movement, including Tai Chi or yoga, can be beneficial.
• Adults should notify their physician if they experience problems walking, numbness in the legs or reactions to medications (dizziness or fatigue).
To view the complete fact sheet on falls and associated costs in upstate New York, go to www.excellusbcbs.com/factsheets.