Falls—Predictable and Preventable

This spring, Russian-speaking ADS case managers and an EnhanceFitness trainer led falls prevention classes for Russian and Ukrainian clients in south King County.

Falls—often predictable and preventable—are not part of the normal aging process. Rather, they are due to underlying physical illnesses (e.g., arthritis, muscle weakness, depression), medications, and environmental hazards. Hazards can include carpets, slippery floors, pets, and/or clutter.

What's the definition of a fall? According to the Kellogg International Working Group, in a report on the Prevention of Falls in the Elderly, a fall is "an event which results in a person coming to rest inadvertently on the ground or other lower level." So even if you almost fall, it's considered a fall. Even falls that do not result in physical injury can have serious social and psychological consequences for older adults, including loss of confidence, restrictions in mobility, and fears about falling.

Facts about falls

Did you know that more than one-third of adults age 65 or older fall each year? And for adults over age 80, one out of every two adults will fall. In Washington state, falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalization among older adults.

Here are some additional troubling facts:

  • Those who fall are two to three times more likely to fall again.
  • Ten percent to 20 percent of falls cause serious injuries (e.g., traumatic brain injury, hip fracture).
  • Sixty percent of fatal falls occur in the home.
  • Fifty-four percent of older adults were discharged to skilled nursing homes after hospitalization for falls.
  • In Washington state, falls result in over 12,000 hospitalizations each year, compared to 2,600 hospitalizations due to motor vehicle accidents.
  • In 2000, the total cost for falls in the U.S. was $19 billion. Falls are projected to cost $240 billion by the year 2040.

ADS developed falls prevention materials specifically for Russian-speaking elders.
ADS and falls prevention

In April 2012, Aging and Disability Services (ADS) received a mini-grant from the Washington State Department of Health to pilot test the effectiveness of strategies outlined in a draft Falls Prevention Toolkit. ADS chose to test the strategies that target seniors living in residential facilities. ADS case managers are working with Russian and Ukrainian clients who have a history of falls or are at risk for falls. The goal is to reduce their risk for falls by educating them about the components of fall prevention, and to demonstrate and encourage balance and strengthening exercises.

Two fall prevention trainings were held in south King County in July 2012. Almost 100 clients and their caregivers participated. The two-hour workshops were led by Russian-speaking case managers and a trainer from the Enhance Fitness Program. At follow-up trainings this month, clients will be recognized for their efforts, lifestyle changes, and/or progress.

Reducing your risk for falls

Studies show that a combination of interventions can significantly reduce falls in the older adult population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the four things you can do to reduce your fall risk:

  • Begin a regular exercise program. Walking is good exercise, but be sure to also include exercises for good balance and increased strength. Dancing and swimming are good too, or consider joining a class.
  • Have your health care provider review your medicines regularly.
  • Have your vision checked annually.
  • Make your home safer. Remove clutter and rugs, and install handrails and night lights.
  • It's also a good idea to wear sturdy, nonskid shoes at all times.

At senior centers across the U.S., programs like A Matter of Balance, Sound Steps, and Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL) help older adults gain the strength, improved balance, and confidence to help them live healthier lives and preserve their independence. For information about falls prevention classes in King County, see "King County Rallies to Prevent Falls" in this issue. Several workshop and class dates are listed in the calendar. AgeWise King County featured a story on SAIL in July 2012.

National Falls Prevention Awareness Day

National Falls Prevention Awareness Day is observed on the first day of Fall (September 22) to promote and increase public awareness about how to prevent and reduce falls among older adults. Washington State is among 46 states, DC and Puerto Rico planning to participate.

For more information about ADS' falls prevention grant and workshops or other falls prevention activities in King County, contact ADS Planner Karen Winston at karen.winston@seattle.gov.

—Karen Winston, Aging and Disability Services