Written by Debra Houry, MD, MPH – Director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Originally posted on the Huffington Post.
When they wheeled the elderly man into the emergency room, I did a double take.
It wasn’t so much his injured hip -- as an ER doctor I’ve seen many older people suffering broken hips, fractured pelvises, and brain injuries as a result of falls that could easily have been prevented. Every 13 seconds, an older adult is treated in an emergency department for a fall.
What made this patient different was that he reminded me of my father who is in his 70s.
I managed this very articulate and pleasant man’s pain and sent him off for the surgery and rehab that would repair his hip but leave him far less independent than he was before. Then I sat down and thought about Dad – and the talks we have had.
Dad still climbs ladders to clean gutters. He won’t give this up no matter how often I ask. But now, instead of focusing on why he shouldn’t do this, we review what medications he’s on that might make him dizzy. We also talk about other ways to prevent injuries from falls: taking vitamin D daily and doing balance and strength exercises.
This is my attempt to prevent falls for one individual; we also need to focus on what we can do to prevent falls at the population level.
Preventable falls are a serious public health problem in our country. In April of this year, the White House Conference on Aging and the National Council on Aging hosted the Falls Prevention Summit. This dialogue helped inform the agenda for today’s White House Conference on Aging. With Americans living longer lives, and baby boomers rapidly heading into their retirement years, falls are an urgent health issue demanding our nation’s attention…STAT.
Each year, millions of adults 65 years old or older fall. Injuries sustained from a fall can make it hard to get around or live independently, and increase the risk of early death. Fall-related deaths are on the rise in the U.S., with more than 25,000 older adults dying in 2013.
Many people think that falls just naturally happen when you get older. But falls don’t have to be an inevitable part of aging. At CDC, we’re working with health care providers to help keep older adults safe from falls. It all starts with three simple steps that health care providers can easily integrate into routine office visits.
At each visit, health care providers should:
- Ask patients if they have fallen in the last year, feel unsteady, or worry about falling.
- Review medications and stop, switch, or reduce the dose of those that increase the risk of falls.
- Recommend vitamin D supplements of at least 800 IU/day with calcium.
As part of the announcements at today’s White House conference and to further reduce the risk of falls, CDC created the STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries) initiative.
STEADI includes materials developed specifically for primary care providers. These include established clinical guidelines and tested interventions designed to help health care providers integrate falls screening, assessment, and referral to community-based fall prevention programs into their daily practice.
If 5,000 health care providers adopt STEADI, over a 5-year period as many as 6.3 million more patients could be screened.
CDC’s STEADI materials are available at no cost and include:
- Screening and clinical decision support tools;
- Instructional videos and online trainings;
- Case studies and tips for talking with patients; and
- Educational materials for patients and their friends and family.
Falls can lead to injuries that can affect overall health,
as well as a person’s quality of life. Older adults may restrict their
activities because of a fear of falling, which can lead to reduced mobility,
fewer social interactions, and decreased physical fitness.
Through STEADI, CDC is working to help safeguard the health
of older Americans, so they can stay healthy, active, and independent longer. You can also download CDC’s STEADI tools and
information, at www.cdc.gov/STEADI.
Help us make STEADI part of every health care practice!