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Falls Among Older Adults

Every day, an average of eight Utahns age 65 and older will be hospitalized for injuries due to a fall. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among older adults in Utah. In 2010 there were 3,129 fall-related hospitalizations among older Utahns, costing more than $85 million in hospital charges.

Utah joined 43 other states and Congress in recognizing September 23, 2011 as Falls Prevention Awareness Day. The Utah Department of Health has also formed the Utah Falls Prevention Coalition to address this public health issue.

Falls are not a normal part of aging. Most falls are preventable older adults learn what hazards to remove in their homes and work to increase their strength and balance through exercise programs like the Stepping On and Matter of Balance programs, among other scientifically tested and proven interventions.

Stepping On program

Stepping On is a 7-week program now being implemented in Davis, Wasatch, and Utah Counties. The program was developed for implementation in the United States by the Wisconsin Institute of Healthy Aging. The program focuses on empowering older adults to carry out health behaviors that reduce the risk of falling, such as removing tripping hazards in their homes, and doing simple exercises to increase their strength and balance. And national research shows the program works: falls among the participants were reduced by 31%.

To find a Stepping On program near you, please call one of the following agencies:

Matter of Balance program

Matter of Balance includes nine two-hour classes for small groups of older adults that teaches them falls are controllable, how to make changes in their homes and environments to lessen the risk of falling, and promotes physical activity to increase strength and balance. National research shows the program reduces the fear of falling and increases activity levels among older adults. The program has been implemented in senior centers in Salt Lake County.

The UDOH recommends four basic steps to reduce the risk of falls:

  • Begin a regular exercise program. Exercise improves strength and balance, as well as coordination.
  • Have your health care provider review your medicines. Some medicines or combinations of medicines can make you sleepy or dizzy and cause you to fall.
  • Have your vision checked. Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. Poor vision can increase your chances of falling.
  • Make your home safer. Remove tripping hazards like throw rugs and clutter in walkways as well as books and papers from stairs. Install grab bars next to your toilet and shower.

These are common factors that may increase the chance an older adult will fall:

  • Age: The risk of falling and being injured increases with age. Of all fall deaths, more than 60% involve people ages 75 years or older. People who are 85 or older are 10-15 times more likely to suffer hip fractures than those between the ages of 60 and 65.
  • Gender: Women experience more fall-related injuries than men, and sustain 75–80% of all hip fractures. This may be related to the higher prevalence of osteoporosis among women. However, the rate of deaths from fall-related injury is higher among men.
  • Health conditions: The risk of fall-related injury is greater for people with osteoporosis, arthritis, neurological and musculoskeletal disabilities, visual impairment, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia and clinical depression.
  • Medication: Some medicines can cause drowsiness or dizziness, and some drugs can interact with other medicines or alcohol and cause problems that may lead to falling.
  • Lifestyle: Lack of regular exercise or physical activity, poor nutrition, low calcium and vitamin D intake, smoking, excessive alcohol use, substance abuse and misuse of medication are all associated with a higher risk of fall injury.
  • Environmental hazards: At home or in other places, the following hazards can lead to falling: slippery or wet surfaces, uneven floors and surfaces, poor lighting, loose rugs, unstable furniture, clutter and objects on floors.