Falls among older adults lead to injuries, hospitalizations and even death

Adults age 65 and older in Central New York had lower fall-related hospitalization and emergency department visit rates than their upstate New York counterparts

About 130,000 older adults in upstate New York reported falling during a three-month period, risking serious injuries, hospitalizations and even death, according to a new Excellus BlueCross BlueShield report.

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths, hospital stays and emergency room visits for adults age 65 and older.

“Avoiding falls is one of the most important things adults 65 and older can do to avoid hospital and emergency room visits and maintain their health and independence,” said Dr. Marybeth McCall, vice president and chief medical officer, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Our report shows that one in three U.S. adults ages 65 and older falls each year, but more adults are likely to fall as large numbers of the baby boom generation reach age 65.”

Among upstate New York adults ages 65 and older, the report showed an annual average of about 30,000 fall-related emergency room visits, 15,000 fall-related hospitalizations and more than 300 fall-related deaths.

The Excellus BlueCross BlueShield report analyzed data from a 2010 state survey of adults age 65 and older. Participants were asked whether they had fallen and were injured in the previous three months. The report also included state hospital and emergency room data for 2008 through 2010. The report, Fall Incidence and Costs Among Adults 65 and Older in Upstate New York, reflects the most recent data available.

According to the report:

• Older adults in the Central New York region were the least likely to be hospitalized or make an emergency room visit because of a fall, while those 65-years-old and older in the Utica region were more likely to do so. On average from 2008 through 2010, 180 fall-related hospitalizations and 377 fall-related emergency room visits occurred per 10,000 older adults in Central New York, compared to 226 hospitalizations and 461 emergency room visits per 10,000 older adults in the Utica region.
• The fall-related death rate and total number of fall-related deaths among adults 65 and older in Central New York was second-highest of all upstate New York regions studied. On average from 2008 through 2010, 6.0 fall-related deaths occurred per 10,000 adults age 65 and older in Central New York, compared to the lowest death rate, 3.6 fall-related deaths per 10,000 older adults in Western New York.
• About 19 percent of men age 65 and older in upstate New York said they fell during a three-month period in 2010, compared to 15 percent of women in the same age group. Of those who reported a fall, men were more likely than women to report a fall-related injury (38 percent versus 33 percent, respectively).
• The average annual cost of fall-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits made by upstate New Yorkers 65 and older was an estimated $352 million from 2008 through 2010.

To help older adults avoid falls, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield launched a Get In Step initiative with Betty Perkins-Carpenter, Ph.D., a falls prevention expert and former Olympic diving coach. Perkins-Carpenter travels throughout upstate New York, teaching a unique and fun fall-prevention approach to members, caregivers, medical professionals and others in the community.

The initiative links patients to home assessments and a six-step program created by Perkins-Carpenter, whose book — How to Prevent Falls: Better Balance, Independence and Energy in 6 Simple Steps — helps adults avoid injuries and overcome their fear of falling.

Perkins-Carpenter teaches fun moves, such as “Dancing with a Pillow,” “Stretching in Bed” and “The 10 Martini Slump.” Her program includes the following fall prevention tips:

• Practice “The 10 Martini Slump” by always relaxing into your chair or bed. “You are mastering the art of falling through practice,” Perkins-Carpenter said. “A stiff body breaks. A limp body bends.” Too often, seniors stiffen when they fall, increasing their chances of an injury. This exercise trains adults to relax if they accidentally fall.
• Turn on your radio or sing a favorite song and dance around the room while holding a pillow as if it was your partner. Dancing forward, backward and sideways helps strengthen your legs and improves your balance, which can help adults avoid a fall.
• Stretch in bed to improve your flexibility and mobility and help relieve your fear of falling.

“We often believe that falling is a natural part of aging, but it doesn’t have to be like that,” Perkins-Carpenter said. “Performing certain movements over and over again can help strengthen your muscles, improve your balance and reduce your risk of injury from falling.”

Click here to view a video of Perkins-Carpenter’s unique fall prevention steps. Fall prevention tips are also available on the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield website. To view the report, Fall Incidence and Costs Among Adults 65 and Older in Upstate New York, go to excellusbcbs.com/factsheets

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, a nonprofit independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association, is part of a family of companies that finances and delivers vital health care services to about 1.9 million people across upstate New York. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield provides access to high-quality, affordable health coverage, including valuable health-related resources that our members use every day, such as cost-saving prescription drug discounts and wellness tracking tools in our Step Up program. To learn more, visit excellusbcbs.com.