The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved a resolution, authored by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, and cosponsored by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, marking September 22nd (the first day of the fall season) as “National Falls Prevention Awareness Day.”
Older adults are the fastest growing age group in the United States, and the number is projected to increase from 49.2 million in 2016 to 94.7 million in 2060. In 2016, approximately three million older adults were treated in emergency rooms after falling. Tragically, more than 29,000 of them died as a result of their injuries.
In addition to the physical and emotional impact of falls, the financial impact is staggering. The average annual healthcare cost of a fall injury is $19,440. The annual total direct medical cost of fall-related injuries for older adults is approximately $50 billion, with 75 percent of these costs shouldered by Medicare and Medicaid. As more Baby Boomers reach retirement age, these costs could nearly double within the next five years. In 2016, nearly one out of three older Mainers reported falling, and 54,000 falls required medical treatment or restricted activity. The estimated annual cost of falls in Maine is $293 million, including $193 million borne by Medicare and $59 million by Medicaid.
Seniors can take steps to protect against falls. In 2003, Partnership for Healthy Aging at MaineHealth developed A Matter of Balance program run by volunteers, which reduces fear of falling and increases activity levels of older adults. Since then, more than 2,800 Mainers have participated in sites across the state from Portland and Lewiston to Damariscotta and Presque Isle. This Maine-developed program has now been disseminated in 43 states across the country from California to Pennsylvania.
“Falls-related injuries have a devastating impact on older Americans, their families, and their communities,” said Senator Collins. “This resolution will bring awareness to the impact of this issue and will also demonstrate some practical initiatives that can be taken to make falls amongst older Americans a far less common occurrence.”
“Falls in older adults are a critical public health problem as they are the leading cause of unintentional injury, emergency department utilization and death. In addition to the life-changing harm a fall injury can cause for an older adult, they lead to decreased quality of life and significant health care expense,” said Peggy Haynes, Senior Director, Partnership for Healthy Aging, MaineHealth. “We know many falls can be prevented, and sincerely appreciate the leadership Senator Collins has shown by sponsoring this resolution for Fall Prevention Awareness Day.”
"Falls Prevention Awareness Day is a nationwide movement thanks to the support of advocates like Senators Collins and Casey whose leadership on this annual resolution helps raise awareness about elder falls and the work communities across the country are doing to prevent them," said Kathleen Cameron, Director of the National Council on Aging's National Falls Prevention Resource Center. "Falling isn't a normal part of aging, so for this one day of the year we hope advocates, older adults, caregivers, and professionals can all shine a light on proven strategies to prevent these life-altering incidents."
This resolution urges relevant federal, state, and local organizations to educate seniors about ways they can reduce the risks that may result from a fall, including injury and even death. It also recognizes that evidence-based programs reduce falls by using cost-effective strategies, such as exercise programs, medication management, vision improvement, reduction of home hazards, and fall prevention education.