Falls in Massachusetts are such an important public health issue that there is a permanent Commission on Falls Prevention established by statute. Falls and fall-related injuries are a risk to older residents and impose a significant public health burden on the health care system treating persons who fall. Falls are the leading cause of injuries and injury deaths for people 65 and older.
The numbers are staggering:
- In 2010 falls among older adults in the state resulted in 40,000 emergency department (ED) visits, more than half (21,000) resulted in hospital stays, and 434 resulted in death.
- Non-fatal fall-related injuries are also on the rise. During the eight year period of 2002 to 2010, age adjusted rates of ED visits for fall-related injuries increased 8%, and hospital stays increased by 10%.
- Falls have debilitating results. One in five falls is associated with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and one in ten involves a fracture of the hip or femur. Nine out of ten older adults who are hospitalized for a hip/femur fracture require post acute long term care after their hospital stay.
- Acute care hospital charges associated with fall related injuries in 2010 totaled over $630 million. Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approximate the lifetime medical and work loss cost of fall injuries among MA older adults sustained in 2010 to be over $8.5 billion.
The first phase of the work of the MA Commission on Falls Prevention was to assess the current landscape in the areas of data and surveillance, community-based falls prevention, practice among providers in various clinical environments, and, lastly, public education and communication. This phase sets the stage for each topic area to work on the recommendations and directions for the next phase of the work to improve education, clinical practice and communication among providers and across settings, enhance community involvement, and understand the data and impact through continued analysis.
Common themes which emerged from formative research and the literature regarding knowledge, attitudes, and behavior about falls as reported by individuals include:
- “It’s normal”: Many older adults believe that falling is a normal part of aging.
- “Not me”: Many older adults did not think that falls prevention messages were personally relevant.
- Fear of falling: Many older adults are afraid of falling.
- Fear of loss and independence: Older adults may not discuss falls or participate in falls prevention for fear it will lead to loss of their independence.
- Fear of stigma and embarrassment.
A fall can happen to anyone, regardless of age. It’s best to keep active and moving no matter your age and to be careful, especially in the winter months.