Falling is not a normal part of aging
By Julie Philbrook, RN, DNP, MAN, MAL
Falls are the leading cause of trauma-related injury and death among those aged 65 and older. Every year, more than 2.3 million non-fatal fall injuries among older adults are treated in emergency departments in the US resulting in more than 734,000 patients being hospitalized. The direct medical costs for falls in the senior population total over $34 billion. Twenty to thirty percent of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries, such as lacerations, hip fractures, or traumatic brain injuries. Even if no injuries occur after a fall, many people develop a fear of falling, which in turn often causes them to limit their activities. This can result in reduced mobility and loss of physical conditioning, subsequently increasing their risk of falling.
Research has proven that the risk of falling decreases when seniors take part in educational programs, which teach exercises that target building strength and maintaining balance. These programs also address other fall-related topics, including, the effects medications can have on balance, sleep, mental alertness, the role a change in vision plays in the risk of falls, and safety in and around the home environment.
There are several programs offered in the community to help empower seniors to carry out health behaviors that reduce the risks of falls. One program, called “Stepping On”, is a community-based workshop offered once a week for seven weeks. The workshop is held in a small-group setting where older adults learn strength and balance exercises from a physical therapist and develop specific knowledge and skills to prevent falls. Other topics covered during Stepping On include home modifications, community safety, vision changes, medication review, safe footwear, and sleep habits. Stepping On classes are highly participative. Mutual support and success build the participants’ confidence in their ability to manage their health behaviors to reduce the risk of falls and to maintain active and fulfilling lives. Hennepin County Medical Center is a training site for new Stepping On Leaders. We can also connect seniors to a Stepping On workshop in their area.
Other fall prevention programs to consider include A Matter of Balance and Tai Ji Quan exercise classes coordinated by the Area Agency on Aging. Seniors can also find classes in their community through health clubs, the YMCA, faith communities, or in their local community education catalog.
Falling is not a normal part of aging. There are actions people can do to decrease their risk of a life-changing fall. They include: moving more, talking with your pharmacist and physician about your risk factors, assessing your home for fall hazards, and being willing to ask for help when needed. These steps today can help you to maintain your health and independence for years to come.
More fall prevention resources:
- Stepping On Leaders training and community workshops
- Senior Linkage Line 1-800-333-2433
- A Matter of Balance and other health senior living programs
Julie Philbrook, RN, DNP, MAN, MAL, has been a registered nurse at HCMC for more than 34 years. She holds a Doctorate in Nursing Practice, as well as master’s degrees in Leadership and Nursing from Augsburg College. She has worked in the field of Trauma Prevention for more than 25 years. Julie has been the state coordinator for the ThinkFirst Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Prevention program for 25 years. She has planned and coordinated countless injury programs including bike rodeos, high school mock car crashes, worksite programs, and car seat safety events. She is a Master Trainer for the Stepping On Fall Prevention program and has trained new leaders from across the state, in addition to conducting workshops for seniors in the community.
As Minnesota’s first Level 1 Trauma Center, HCMC is not only committed to the treatment of trauma patients, but to providing patients, clients, and the broader community with proactive trauma prevention programs. Since 1989, HCMC has been providing these programs in collaboration with schools, community groups, and other healthcare providers.
HCMC’s Trauma Prevention programs address injuries that may occur at any age. Working in collaboration with other safety-oriented coalitions and partners, our staff provides both direct education, as well as technical assistance to other healthcare providers and community groups to address their specific injury prevention goals.