Prevent Falls for the Elderly

Every 18 seconds, an older American falls, and the medical costs are enormous.

ByABC News via logo
November 3, 2008, 6:05 PM

Nov. 4, 2008 — -- While falling down is usually played for jokes on television and the Internet, for millions of older Americans it's no laughing matter.

Every 18 seconds, an older adult is in the emergency room because of a fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That translates into a person 65 or older dying, due to a fall, every 35 minutes, according to the CDC.

"Most falls are never reported. People don't go to the hospital, they just go home, and they're injured, they nurse their injuries themselves," saidNational Council on Aging CEO Jim Firman.

It means the person's loved ones or spouses often become caretakers. Lillian Sacks is one such person. Eight years ago her husband, Julian Sacks, fell while riding the subway.

"He's been on a steady decline since that time," she said.

During the summer, Julian fell again.

"He said, 'I can't take this anymore. I don't wanna live anymore,'" said 81-year-old Lillian. "He stopped eating."

The couple's more than 25-year love story ended when he died in August.

The Sacks' story is not unusual. Annually, 1.8 million older adults are treated for falls, which results in $20 billion in direct costs. And as baby boomers age en masse, the costs are expected to more than double in the next decade to $54 billion.

"This is absolutely a public health crisis," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. "Over the next 10 years, our baby boomers will be coming of age. Twenty percent of our population will be over the age of 65."

Mikulski led a six-year fight for the first fall-prevention bill to study the impact of falls on health care costs.

"Many of those falls are due to quite preventable factors, like weakening, losing strength, bad footwear, medication interactions," said Jule Kardachi, who co-founded the FallStop...Move Strong Program four years ago to help older adults prevent falls. "We address all of our class."

FallStop combines strength training to help balance, and practical tips to minimize risks. What began as a handful of students in the group has grown into a business with proven results.

Click here for more information from the National Council on Aging.