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Falls and fall injuries are a chronic problem in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls have been the No. 1 cause of emergency room visits since 2001, and falls are the No. 1 cause of injury and death among older Americans.
While most of the conversation about falls focuses on seniors and the problems fall injuries present for them, that narrative misleads us. The reality is that 75% of all fall-related emergency room visits happen to people under the age of 68. One quarter of fall-related ER visits occur to people under age 16, another quarter to people ages 16 to 44, a quarter to people age 45 to 68, and the rest to people over age 68. This shows us that fall injuries are a concern for everyone.
Seniors have become the focal point of fall-related discussions because of the serious consequences of those falls. While only 25% of the fall injuries happen to people over 68, falls in this group result in 61% of fall-related hospitalizations and 78% of fall-related deaths. I don't want to diminish how important it is for us to elevate a discussion about fall prevention for seniors. It is important work and an important message.
But there is a significant opportunity for us in teaching everyone how to avoid falls and fall injuries. Kathleen Cameron, senior director, Center for Healthy Aging at the National Council on Aging, says, "Teaching people how to avoid fall injuries when they are younger pays big dividends for people when they become seniors. For example, including balance and strength exercises into regular physical activity is an important step in reducing falls risk as we get older."
The first step in reducing fall injuries is increasing our awareness that falls can and do happen to everyone. Increased awareness leads to increased caution and smarter choices when faced with higher risk situations, and there are more high risk situations than you might imagine.
Consider this: One of the first things we teach our children is to look both ways when crossing a street. As a result of these lessons, 22,000 child-pedestrians (under the age of 16) were sent to emergency rooms as a result of being hit by motor vehicles in 2015. By comparison during the same year, over 2.1 million children went to emergency rooms as a result of fall injuries.
That means that for every one child that was hit by a car, 100 more went to the hospital with a fall-related injury. Few parents address fall prevention with the same emphasis as when they teach their children how to cross a street safely, but just imagine the decline in hospitalizations we might see if they did.
Falls can come in a wide variety of settings, but we can be safer by following just a few simple fall prevention safety rules:
As the National Council on Aging marks Sept. 22 as Falls Prevention Awareness Day, all of us should use the day as a chance to recommit to our own safety and build habits that will protect us in our later, more vulnerable years. Reducing fall injuries starts with awareness of the risk and then changing our actions. We can do this.