For Older Adults, Falls Are the No. 1 Fatal Injury. Learn How to Prevent Them

Each year, one in four Americans 65 or older falls, according to the National Council on Aging. For older adults, falls are:

  • The leading cause of fatal injury
  • The most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions

Falls threaten seniors’ safety and independence, incurring enormous economic and personal costs. However, falling is not an inevitable result of aging.

Forbes Trauma Center serves the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh and treats many older adults who have suffered falls.

During 2017, more than 50 percent of the center’s patients were 65 or older, according to Forbes. Many of them required treatment for injuries caused by falls.

The staff at Forbes decided that providing excellent treatment for falls after the fact was not enough. They wanted to prevent falls in the first place. As Sarah Zelazny, trauma coordinator at Forbes says, “We are under the belief that every single fall we see is preventable.”

Forbes resolved to make fall-prevention education and community outreach a priority.

How to prevent falls at home

Sarah Zelazny, the trauma coordinator, emphasizes that if older adults and their families are presented with preventive care, they can decrease the risk of falling. Simple additions or changes in the home can reduce the risk of traumatic injuries.

Meghan Mays, a Forbes doctor of physical therapy, gives guidance to help older adults avoid falls. Dr. Mays recommends:

  • Cutting down on clutter in the home environment
  • Making sure there is adequate lighting throughout the home
  • Adding grab bars around the toilet and bathtub
  • Staying active by exercising to improve mobility and strength

Forbes takes falls prevention to the community

To spread the word about the danger that falls pose for older adults—and the best ways to prevent these traumas—Forbes staff engaged with its communities at local picnics, fairs, and other events. This falls education and prevention included:

  • Resources for assessing seniors’ risk of suffering a fall
  • Physical therapists, who talked to interested participants about their strengths and their concerns about mobility
  • A pharmacist, who reviewed participants’ medications and explained how some medications increase the risk of falling by creating low blood pressure, which leads to dizziness

Falls risk assessment and prevention at Forbes

To help older adults understand their risk of falling and take steps to prevent injuries, Forbes provides assessments and prevention programs. These include:

  • Health Steps for Older Adults, a workshop for adults 50 and older to address and discuss fears of falling and connect with peers.
  • Time Up and Go, a mobility assessment in which the patient is asked to sit, get up from the chair, walk three meters, turn around, and sit back down. If the patient takes more than 20 seconds to complete the task, the physician refers the patient for further risk assessment.
  • Frailty Factor, a test that evaluates skills such as the ability to walk a block or up a flight of stairs unassisted. The test also considers if a patient lost a large amount of weight without much effort. These factors help assess a patient’s strength and mobility, so the physician and patient both understand the patient’s risks and are aware of any issues or concerns.

Forbes Trauma Center believes education is the best medicine for fall prevention. The center encourages older adults and their loved ones to learn about, and take, the simple steps that can prevent injuries due to falls.