Falls can be devastating for senior citizens, causing serious health problems and even death. But a policy brief from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research finds there's much more that can be done for seniors to help prevent falls.
Researchers looked at data from the 2007 California Health Interview Survey to see how seniors followed up with medical care after a fall. In 2007, 14.5 percent of Californians age 65 and older fell to the ground more than once, according to the brief. About 21 percent of people age 85 and older had multiple falls. Those at even higher risk of falling included women, people with low incomes and people with disabilities and chronic conditions. More than half a million seniors in California fell more than once in 2007, a jump of about 100,000 from 2003. Seniors who suffer one fall are at greater risk for more falls.
Though 91 percent of the state's seniors saw a doctor in the last year, falls were not often the reason they went. Just under half of seniors who had more than one fall said that was the reason they visited the doctor.
That's significant, because they could get information from the doctor on how to prevent future falls. Among seniors who have had multiple falls, 70 percent said they had done one or more of six suggested preventive activities, and about half did two or more (those include talking with a health professional about how to reduce falls, and using a cane or walker). That still leaves many who didn't follow up with any prevention strategies.
"Following up with a doctor after a fall is critical to senior health," said Steven Wallace, lead author of the brief, in a news release. Wallace, the center's associate director, added, "The safeguards we discuss are some of the best ways of preventing additional falls and the disastrous health consequences associated with falls."
Among the strategies to reduce falls recommended in the brief were training emergency medical professionals and paramedics to encourage seniors to get medical attention after falling, even if they weren't injured. Also suggested were community-based senior programs, targeted to those at risk for falls, that include exercises such as tai-chi, as well as home and medication assessments.