If there’s anyone in the county familiar with falls, it would be the people who respond when falls result in injuries.
Ed Debesis, Marion County Emergency Medical Services director, said county medical crews have assisted with falls many times.
“We had 117 falls last year,” Debesis said.
This count includes falls on streets and curbs, falls on private property and falls in nursing facilities, he said.
Falls are a significant cause of injury for seniors, including fractures and head or brain injuries.
Hip fractures are the most common serious injury Debesis said he has seen, but he noted he’s seen many femur fractures.
Debesis observed that the number one cause of in-home falls is loose bathmats or rugs. When that happens, EMTs usually advise the person to remove the problem.
“Tape them down, do stuff like that,” Debesis said.
There’s not always an obvious cause for falls, though.
“Sometimes it’s just that the patient loses balance and falls,” Debesis said. “A lot of times it’s that they just stumbled on their feet.”
Outside falls are often caused by stepping in a hole or onto a curb that was higher than they realized, he said.
Debesis also said he highly recommends using nightlights and cleaning up spills as soon as they occur.
He added that he knows health issues sometimes make it hard to maintain overall strength so to prevent falls, but if seniors can do that, it’s a good thing.
If seniors cannot easily complete a task, Debesis advises they not attempt it.
“Find somebody else,” Debesis said.
Donna Evans, facility nurse for Marion Assisted Living, said that the first time a resident falls, the facility takes a series of precautions to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
“I just cringe when I see a bath rug in the bathroom,” Evans said. “I’m a huge stickler on rugs. I have found that most often with falls, they are from rugs in the kitchen or bathroom.”
The person’s nutritional status and medication is also examined.
It could be that a new medication or something lacking in the diet is causing falls.
Occupational therapy can sometimes help prevent falls.
DeVona Roble, an occupational therapist who works for a sizeable number of hospitals and nursing facilities, including Hillsboro Community Hospital, said in nursing homes, she first tries to identify who is at risk for falling.
“After we’ve identified them, we try to see what is causing the falls,” Roble said. “We try to keep them from falling in the future. What we’re trying to do is identify the risk factors.”
Inability to get around in the home with walking devices can be a cause of falls, Roble said. So can having white tile, which makes it difficult to spot spilled water on the floors.
The patient’s ankles are also evaluated, Noble said.
“What happens in the ankles is critical in falls,” Roble said. “That’s something that physical therapists can look at.”
The National Institutes of Health reports that more than one in three older adults in the U.S. falls each year and that falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence, and injury deaths.
The most common fall-related fractures are in the hip, arm, hand, pelvis, spine or ankle, NIH reports. Many who break a hip will end up needing long-term care.
The Centers for Disease Control emphasizes that falls among seniors cost about $3.5 million annually, and can cause serious head injury including traumatic brain injury. Falls lead to 2.5 million emergency room visits and over 700,000 hospitalizations, with head injury or hip fracture the leading diagnoses.