The start of fall, the end of falls

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

You have to hand it to the folks at the National Council on Aging, and their affiliated partners. They really know how to tastefully make light of a harrowing situation. Tastefully being the key word.

You don't joke or make word plays about crime sprees or natural disasters that leave 20,000 or more dead, cause 2.4 million emergency room visits and run up more than $30 billion in direct medical costs each year. 

Yet for the eighth year in a row now, NCOA got a grin out of me when it introduced a discussion that brought up that kind of carnage.

That's because someone long ago cleverly decided that the day after the official start of fall would become the official Falls Prevention Awareness Day. Fall might be unstoppable each year, but many falls don't have to be.

There are plenty of good reasons for long-term care professionals to care about this annual observance, which arrives Wednesday. Take, for example, the fact that 1 in 3 adults over the age of 65 falls each year, and an older adult dies every 20 minutes due to injuries from a fall. Emergency room visits occur at a rate of 1 every 13 seconds. Rare indeed is the provider that hasn't transported a fall victim to a hospital emergency department during the past year.

Many of the statistics above are at least a few years old. One can only imagine how much bigger those numbers are now — and will be headed in the baby boomed future.

More current statistics include an estimate from earlier this year that says between 700,000 and 1 million people fall in hospital settings each year. This is one area where skilled nursing facilities can calmly, if not proudly, be confident that their numbers are higher than hospitals'.

True, with generally weaker, frailer clientele than hospitals, skilled nursing providers can consider themselves victims of circumstances. Despite best intentions and caregiver practices, falls will occur.

But providers don't have to be satisfied with the numbers, and they shouldn't put up with the status quo.

So what's a conscientious caregiver to do? First, visit the NCOA Falls Prevention Awareness Day section on the web. That's where you'll find a huge amount of helpful resources, tips and caregiving ideas.

“Take a Stand to Prevent Falls” is the theme of this year's observance — another sign that someone in love with words is at the NCOA keyboard. The official Twitter hashtag is #FPAD15.

Since FPAD began in 2008, it has expanded from 11 states to 48 states and the District of Columbia. It's time for everybody to get more involved.

My suggestion is to take a waltz around the NCOA “Falls Free” web page. There are outreach materials, fact sheets, photo and video contests to enter, infographics, tips on how to involve the media and much, much more.

An outgrowth of this has been the creation of the National Falls Prevention Conference, which runs from Monday through Wednesday in Los Angeles. While it is not an NCOA production, an opportunistic group of organizers has assembled a respected list of speakers and sessions. The program will feature keynote talks from researchers at Johns Hopkins and UCLA, not to mention representatives of many governmental, aging and services groups. If you can't make it there, the faculty and agenda are worth at least a look.

Between that site and the valuables from NCOA, there is no reason your falls rates shouldn't drop during the coming year. And that would truly be reason to smile.

James M. Berklan is McKnight's Editor. Follow him @JimBerklan.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.