SALT LAKE CITY — Each week, about 200 Utahns 65 years of age or older suffer a fall and receive medical help for their injuries at an emergency room, and about a third of those people require hospitalization.
That's according to a report released this week by the Utah Department of Health.
Such falls are the "leading cause injury-related death" and hospitalization for Utahns in that age group, according to the department.
About one-third of Utahns 65 and older are expected to have a fall of some kind this year, said Sheryl Gardner, falls prevention specialist for the Utah Department of Health.
“Our goal is to help seniors remain healthy and independent. One fall can be the beginning of a downward health spiral that may include limited mobility, dementia from a head injury, and complications from major surgeries like blood clots and seizures," Gardner said in a statement. "Even minor falls can impact a person’s sense of safety and well-being."
About three Utah seniors die each week from a fall, the department said. Utahns ages 65 and older account for 77.8 percent of fall-related deaths within the state as of 2016, according to the agency.
The department's report found that despite this prevalence, fall hospitalizations among seniors were noticeably more common nationally every year from 2008 to 2016. The rate of fall deaths in Utah was also lower in 2016 compared to national data.
In 2014, more than $121 million was paid in medical expenses resulting from falls suffered by a person 65 or older in Utah, with more than $112 million of those costs paid by Medicare, the report says.
"More than half of Utahns aged 65 (or older) who were hospitalized due to a fall were discharged to residential care or a rehabilitation facility. (Of those patients), only 24 percent were able to return home," according to the report.
The report also shows that from 2014 to 2016 the rate of fatal falls was by far the highest among Utahns 85 and older compared to other seniors — in fact more than three times that of Utahns ages 80 to 84 years old, which had the next highest rate.
Gardner stressed that seniors should understand that falls are preventable.
"Older adults want to stay active, independent, and safe in their homes, but many worry about their risk of falling. … Falling is not a normal part of aging and older adults have the power to prevent a fall," she said.
Utah health officials also stressed several fall prevention methods as part of the new report:
- Exercise regularly to improve strength, balance and coordination. Free or inexpensive exercise programs and fall prevention classes are offered at some senior centers and local health departments around the state.
- Talk with a doctor to help assess the risk for falling and report prior falls.
- Review medications with a medical provider to better learn which drugs or drug combinations may cause dizziness or sleepiness.
- Get annual vision and hearing checkups.
- Remove hazards around the home, such as rugs, books, papers and clutter, with particular attention to stairs and walkways. Ensure there is adequate lighting throughout the house. Put in grab bars by showers and toilets.
- Talk with family members about the risks of falling and enlist their help in staying safe.