One in four upstate New York adults older than age 65 fell at least once in the last year, according to research by Univera Healthcare.
Two in five of those who fell experienced an injury, Univera concluded using two years of self-reported survey data from government health agencies.
The insurer found that falls are common among upstate adults 65 and older, and that the risk for falling and severity of an injury increase with age.
Of upstate New Yorkers age 65 to 69:
– 24 percent fell in the last 12 months
– 32 percent were injured from a fall
Of upstate New Yorkers age 80 and over:
– 31 percent fell in the last 12 months
– 44 percent were injured from a fall
In Western New York, 27 percent of seniors 65 and over fell during the last year and 39 percent who fell were injured, according to the report.
“One finding of concern – but we frankly have no explanation for it – is the regional variation in the rate of falls per 1,000 population ages 65 and older,” said Dr. Bruce Naughton, Univera Healthcare vice president and chief medical officer for Medicare.
The data show that adults ages 65 and older in the Utica-Rome-North Country region reported falls at more than twice the rate of adults 65 and over in the Finger Lakes region, where the rate of reported falls was lower than state and upstate New York averages.
“Falling is not an accepted part of the aging process in any region,” Naughton said in a news release. “There are simple things that everyone can do right now for themselves and their loved ones to help reduce the incidence of falls and promote independent and active lifestyles.”
1. Move it or lose it
Lower body weakness and difficulty with balance are risk factors for falling. Naughton advised staying active and maintaining a fitness routine. Simple activities, such as exercising in a chair or stretching in bed, can greatly improve strength and balance. Finding a fitness partner can add the motivation to go for walks, take a dip in a local pool or even learn tai chi.
2. Physical factors
Certain medications can affect balance. People also are more likely to fall if they have vision problems or inadequate nutrition. According to Naughton, proper vision care – including up-to-date eyeglass prescriptions – proper nutrition and a thorough medication review can help cut down on falls.
3. Home hazards
“We all take great care to childproof our homes when there are toddlers running about,” Naughton said. “We need to give the same attention to eliminating tripping hazards for older adults, or anyone who has difficulty with walking or balance.”
The most common tripping hazards include:
– Throw rugs that bunch or slide.
– Steps that are uneven, too steep or too long, and that have inadequate railings.
– Lighting that’s either too dim, or so bright that it causes glare.
– Pets that follow too closely or lie in prime walking areas.
– Unstable chairs or tables that can’t support a person’s weight.
– Extension cords across walkways.
– Bathrooms that lack grab bars, or that have low toilet seats.
– Sloping yards and driveways.
– Cracks in sidewalks, or uneven transitions between bare floors and carpeted rooms.
Nationally, one in five falls causes serious harm, such as a broken bone or a head injury. Among older New York residents hospitalized because of a fall, 60 percent go to a nursing home or rehab facility, 27 percent experience a hip fracture, and 11 percent suffer a traumatic brain injury, Univera officials said.
The estimated annual impact that falls have on health care spending in upstate is substantial, according to a report issued by Univera in 2012. That report showed $30.6 million in emergency room costs and $321 million in hospital costs directly related to falls.
“We can and should encourage people to stay active as they age, keep their doctors informed about any issues with balance or vision, and eliminate easy tripping hazards around the house and yard to reduce fall-related injuries, emergency room visits and hospital stays,” Naughton said.
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