The UF Health TraumaOne Senior Steps program promotes active aging through fall prevention.
It’s a growing problem that is literally knocking millions of people off their feet and into hospital beds every year.
Falls are the leading cause of injuries among adults 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in four older adults reported falling, with more than 3 million falls requiring treatment in emergency rooms. More than 27,000 people died from their injuries.
“Statistics show this is a widespread problem, but we often don’t hear about it until a patient is in the emergency room,” said Rebecca Melvin, UF Health TraumaOne education coordinator. “People need to know falling is not a normal part of the aging process. It can be prevented.”
A PREVENTABLE PROBLEM
Every September during Fall Prevention Week, TraumaOne staff kick off the Senior Steps fall prevention program for older adults. They travel to several senior citizen community centers through December to educate residents on how to remove trip hazards and prevent fall-related injuries using the CDC’s Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries program.
“Medications for high blood pressure, high blood sugar or anxiety can cause patients to fall,” Melvin said. “One of the first things we recommend is bringing a list of all your medications with you to every doctor appointment. As you get older, you start to see more specialists who may not be on the same network or communicating with one another. It’s important to make doctors aware of prescriptions that may make you lose your balance.”
Staff also educate attendees about ways to prevent trips, slips and falls in their homes by removing hazards, such as ensuring rooms are well-lit, cords are not located in high-traffic areas, and steps and step stools have handrails.
“It’s as simple as making the items you use regularly more accessible,” Melvin said. “Move the sugar you use in your coffee every morning to your countertop, so you don’t have to reach up into your cabinet to get it.”
Marie Crandall, MD, MPH, a UF Health trauma surgeon, says senior falls are becoming a larger part of trauma care, especially as the population ages.
“Certainly, you worry about broken bones,” Crandall said. “Falling and striking things are also really common, causing injuries like rib fractures. Sometimes those rib fractures poke into other organs like your lungs, spleen and liver.”
Crandall said the most worrisome falls involve blows to the head, where a patient can experience intracranial bleeding or a traumatic brain injury.
“It’s important for patients to tell their doctors every time they fall because there are things we can do about it,” Crandall said. “We can test your hearing and vision. We can treat macular degeneration, diabetic eye diseases or other medical conditions that decrease your vision.”
Crandall says simply by improving a patient’s sight, they may be able to remain independent longer.
“No one wants to be told they can no longer do something they used to do,” Melvin said. “Many older adults are afraid their freedom will be stripped away. Our goal is to empower older adults with education to keep them safe.”
Fall Prevention Week is Sept. 22-28. To learn more about Senior Steps, contact the Trauma Prevention Program at Trauma1@jax.ufl.edu or 244.3400.
Marie Crandall, MD, MPH, FACS
Associate Chair, Research; Program Director, General Surgery Residency