They’re the primary cause of hospital visits for Knox County adults 65 and older. And, public health officials believe, many of them are completely preventable.
Seniors can learn ways they might avoid falls at a free National Falls Prevention Awareness Day event, 8:30-11:30 a.m. Sept. 22 at O’Connor Senior Center, 611 Winona St. “Falls continue to be a major health threat for older adults,” said Rachel Frazier, public health educator for Knox County Health Department, which is co-sponsoring the event with the Knoxville-Knox County Senior Safety Task Force. “They often result in injuries and can even reduce their ability to remain independent,” when broken hips or leg bones can steal mobility and require long — sometimes permanent — stays in nursing homes.
The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said one in falls by adults 65 and older causes a serious injury, such a broken bones or head trauma. In Tennessee between 2008-2014, the death rate from traumatic brain injury for residents 65 and older was more than triple the rate for all ages. And in seniors, especially, broken hips or ribs are more likely to lead to other potentially fatal conditions — like pneumonia. All told, 2.8 million senior adults are treated in hospital emergency rooms for falls each year; more than 800,000 of them are hospitalized for their injuries.
The CDC puts the direct medical cost of falls at $31 billion annually.
“But there are proven ways to reduce falls,” Frazier said. “And that’s just what we plan to share with seniors, their caretakers and adult children at this event.”
Seniors will get to talk to a pharmacist about their medications, receive balance screenings and vision checks, and get information about home safety.
All those are documented ways to help prevent falls. Medications — both prescription and over-the-counter — can cause side effects or interactions such as dizziness or drowsiness, which can lead to falls. So can poor vision — get eyes checked at least once a year, so glasses can be updated when necessary.
Seniors can make their homes safer by adding grab bars, especially in and near the tub or shower and next to the toilet; adding railings on both sides of stairs; improving lighting; and removing tripping hazards, such as throw rugs or items that prevent a wide, clear path through the house.
Health officials also recommend regular exercise focusing on increasing leg strength and improving balance. Knox County offers an ongoing, evidence-based senior strength and balance fitness class called S.A.I.L., or Stay Active and Independent for Life, that’s designed to prevent falls. It includes self-assessments and is offered at Carter, South Knoxville and Karns senior centers and at Trinity Chapel Church, as well as in several surrounding counties. For information, contact Frazier at 865-215-5175 or Rachel.Frazier@knoxcounty.org.
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For more information about the SAIL program, contact Cynthia Rockey, Health Promotions Manager, at CRockey@ethra.org or 865-691-2551, ext. 4342.