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Chronic Conditions Cause More Traumatic Falls Among Baby Boomers

It's been called a "$50 billion problem," but the National Council on Aging says the majority of falls among older adults are preventable. (kaboompics/Pixabay)
It's been called a "$50 billion problem," but the National Council on Aging says the majority of falls among older adults are preventable. (kaboompics/Pixabay)
September 23, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. — More than 3 million older adults are treated for falls in emergency rooms each year, with 1 in 5 of them suffering serious injuries such as broken bones or head trauma. To raise awareness, today is the 12th annual Falls Prevention Awareness Day.

Kathleen Cameron, senior director with the National Council on Aging, said falls are the number one cause of injuries and death among older Americans. According to Cameron, that's increasingly attributed to chronic conditions experienced by many Baby Boomers.

"Like diabetes, arthritis, chronic pain - and they all can lead to an increased chance of having a fall,” Cameron said.

Cameron said 1 in 4 Americans aged 65 and older falls every year, resulting in expensive health-care costs and sometimes a reduced quality of life. She noted that Minnesota ranks number two after Wisconsin for the number of falls reported among older adults, with South Dakota and Iowa also among the top ten states.

Cameron contends falls are not a normal part of aging, and it's important for older adults, their health-care professionals and elder caregivers know how to protect against them. She said changes in balance and mobility, sometimes due to loss of muscle mass, medications and changes in vision or hearing are common culprits. But exercise programs can be beneficial.

"Tai Chi is a perfect example of that type of program,” she said. “It's been around for thousands of years, and there's been research looking at its effectiveness in reducing falls. And if it's practiced over a period of 24 weeks, it can reduce falls by as much as 55%."

Cameron encouraged aging adults to seek out Tai Chi or other exercise programs typically available at local senior centers or YMCAs. Falls are responsible for nearly 3 million injuries treated in emergency departments and more than 27,000 deaths annually.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - MN