Seniors slipped tips on avoiding bad falls
Every year in Hawaii an average of about 4,460 seniors are treated in an emergency room because of falls, 1,760 are hospitalized and 65 die.
These are among figures cited by state Department of Health epidemiologist Dan Galanis to show the "devastating impact" of falls on lives of isle residents 65 and older.
Galanis, with the Injury Prevention Program, was among speakers at a conference yesterday at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel on "Fall Prevention: Implementing What Works."
Experts in geriatrics and reduction of fall risks stressed the importance of appropriate physical activity to maintain strength, balance and flexibility as adults age.
Katherine Berg, University of Toronto Department of Physical Therapy chairwoman, recommended assessments to determine a senior's risk factors and best methods of addressing them.
"We want to make sure individuals are active and functioning to the best of their ability," she said.
Physical activities are a primary means of preventing falls but they should be tailored to a person's limitations and interests, said Debra Rose, co-director, Center for Successful Aging at California State University at Fullerton.
Walking was the overwhelming favorite physical activity of seniors of various ethnic backgrounds participating in a focus group for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said.
But that that isn't enough as risks of falling increase with age, she said, pointing to the need to strengthen muscles, increase heart rate and maintain balance.
Gene Corpuz, Hawaii Medical Service Association health educator, introduced about 40 women to some simple techniques to maintain balance from HMSA's "Strong, Straight and Steady Program."
"I'm not teaching you how to fall but how not to fall," he said, emphasizing strengthening muscles and maintaining good posture for balance.
Wally Wake, 68, retired physical therapist who walks and works out, said the exercises are helpful but that they wouldn't have prevented her from tripping over a tree root under the sidewalk at Waipio Costco.
She had been walking an hour when she encountered the root, landed on her face and got a bloody nose, she said. "It was a freakish thing."
The state Health Department sponsored the conference because falls are the major cause of fatal injuries, hospitalizations and emergency department visits for Hawaii seniors. Co-sponsors were the City-County Elderly Affairs Division, Hawaii Island Adult Care Inc., HMSA, Ohana Pacific Rehab and Project Dana.
Department of Health epidemiologist Dan Galanis presented these facts about falls in Hawaii:
» Senior falls are the third-leading cause of death from injuries among isle residents of all ages, and they increase significantly with age. From 2001 to 2006, the death rate for those 85 and older (878 per 100,000 residents) was 38 times higher than the rate (23 per 100,000 residents) among 65 to 69 year olds, he said.
» Every five hours, on average, a Hawaii senior is hospitalized with serious injuries from a fall.
» The average hospital stay for a fall victim is eight days and the annual estimated total cost for hospitalizations for seniors injured by falls is $42.5 million.
» Three-fourths of hospitalized patients had a fracture and about half had a hip fracture.
» Oahu seniors have the greatest risk of fatal falls but Kauai and Maui seniors had the highest rates of falls treated in emergency rooms. Seniors in Maui County had the highest risk of falls requiring hospitalization.
» Limited information is available on why falls occur but many factors might be involved, from a senior's frailty and poor balance to effects of medications and the home environment.