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Fall Prevention Awareness Week: Aging Well Means Addressing the Risk

A closer look at chronic conditions and their impact on seniors’ risk of falling

As we enter Fall Prevention Awareness Week (September 22 – 28), it’s important to talk about one of the other factors that may increase one’s risk of falling: chronic conditions.

 

In some cases seniors and caregivers don’t know that the presence of a chronic condition, such as heart disease, diabetes, cognitive impairment, COPD, high blood pressure, or arthritis can also potentially increase this risk.

These diseases can lead to a loss of balance, neuropathy, painful joints, and moments of disorientation. Additionally, medications that are commonly prescribed to treat these conditions may have side effects such as dizziness or lightheadedness – all of which can increase the risk of falling.

As I support my own father, I am experiencing firsthand how health is dynamic and our ability to do simple tasks such as climbing a staircase changes over time. The changing state of health makes living with chronic diseases difficult for everyone involved – not only for seniors, but also for caregivers as we want to make sure our loved ones are doing well even when we are not with them.

 

In the United States, one in three seniors fall each year[1]. In past Philips’ studies, results have shown that seniors with osteoporosis, cognitive impairment diseases, diabetes, COPD, and heart disease can fall even more often. Not all health conditions affect falls risk equally, however. Seniors with COPD fell 42 percent more, diabetes patients fell 30 percent more, and those with heart conditions fell 29 percent more than their healthy counterparts. We also found that seniors with chronic conditions fell and required emergency transport up to 54 percent more often than those with no chronic health conditions[2].

 

These are statistics we don’t like to talk about, but they are a reality. Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, and over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths[3]. Emergency room visits can be stressful, costly and potentially avoided with solutions and services to better support aging well with chronic conditions.[4]

With 5.3 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer's, 24 million from COPD and 29 million from diabetes, chronic conditions are a growing concern as we age.

 

Eighty percent of the senior population has at least one chronic health condition, 68 percent have two or more[5], and about 75 percent of healthcare costs are spent on chronic diseases[6]. These are staggering statistics when it comes to the number of people who are at risk for serious falls, resulting injuries and the cost associated with care.

These issues not only impact one’s health and well-being, they also have economic consequences. In 2015, costs for falls to Medicare alone totaled over $31 billion[7]. Imagine if some of this could be averted and spent preventing the fall in the first place.

Understanding the fall risk associated with seniors, especially those living with chronic conditions or illnesses, is the first step to prevention. By providing prompt care, outcomes can be improved, costs can be reduced, and people can potentially live longer at home independently.

 

A focus on preventative care and preparedness

Many seniors are living with chronic conditions, and the associated increased risks of falling, and the dynamic nature of health, it is more important than ever to make sure seniors have services, solutions and support to age well. Seniors and their caregivers can be better prepared by: 

 

  • Knowing that time matters. A key consideration is the amount of time between when someone falls and gets medical help after a fall. For example, we know that the risk of dying after a fall can increase three fold if timely response is not provided[8]. Getting help quickly after an incident such as a heart attack, stroke, diabetic episode, or fall makes a difference in outcomes and costs. Using a medical alert device results in an emergency response time that is more than 320 times faster than a senior having to call for help on their own.

  • Seeking out solutions that improve medication adherence. Eighty-seven percent of adults ages 65 or older take at least two medications, and 42 percent take five or more medications[9]. Adherence can be a challenge for seniors, but effective medication management can help avoid unintended mistakes and consequences.

  • Staying active. Sedentary lifestyles can gradually cause poor flexibility, loss of strength and decreased bone mass—all of which will increase the chances of falling. Establishing a consistent fitness routine will put your body in better shape and make exercise easier as you get older.

  • Avoiding unnecessary hospital care. Automatic fall detection technology and responsive medical care may help avoid hospital transport, ER visits and hospitalization. Through predictive analytics, like Philips’ CareSage, care teams can be alerted when a senior or other patient has an increased risk of being transported to the emergency room in the next 30 days.  Early warning systems like this can make all the difference in providing effective treatment and care. These types of solutions help clinicians understand how their customers are doing while they are at home or on the go.


It is important to recognize that while aging inevitability brings an increased risk of falling, there are smart choices we can make to reduce the risks, improve outcomes and quality of life. Take action for yourself and your loved ones to help them to stay safe, healthier and more connected.  

[1] Tromp AM, Pluijm SMF, Smit JH, et al. Fall-risk screening test: a prospective study on predictors for falls in community-dwelling elderly. J Clin Epidemiol 2001; 54(8):837–844.

[2] All data within the study is reported with a +/- 95% confidence interval; the complete findings are available at www.lifeline.philips.com/resources/fall-risk.

[3] National Council on Aging

[4] According to study results from an analysis of 145,000 Philips Lifeline users.

[5] National Council on Aging

[6] National Health Council

[7] Burns EB, Stevens JA, Lee RL. The direct costs of fatal and non-fatal falls among older adults—United States. J Safety Res 2016:58.

[8] Persons Found in Their Homes Helpless or Dead, NEJM, 334: 1710-1716 (June 27), 1996.

[9] Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project Facts and Figures 2008. Statistics on Hospital-Based Care in the United States. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Kimberly O’Loughlin

Senior vice president and general manager of Philips

Healthcare, Home Monitoring. She is responsible for leading a global business serving seniors and their caregivers with safety, health and connected solutions and services.

 

Follow Kimberly on:

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