The real cost of a fall: Falling in America — myth vs. reality

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Suzanne Gainey, Online Marketing Manager, SATECH, INC./SmartCells
Suzanne Gainey, Online Marketing Manager, SATECH, INC./SmartCells

With an aging population on the rise in the United States, a great deal of attention is appropriately given to fall-related injuries, fall prevention and fall protection. 

About 1 in 4 Americans aged 65+ falls each year, and every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall-related injury.  With these national statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it isn't surprising that falls take place every single day.

Let's begin by looking at some common myths related to elderly falls. Many seniors believe that if they just stay home they won't fall. The reality is that more than half of all senior falls happen in the home. Another common myth relates to the caregiving situation. If an elderly person has a family member caring for them, or another professional caregiver that comes to their home setting, there is often a false sense of security that hospitalization will not be necessary if they do take a tumble. 

However, the statistics from the CDC tell us that 1 out of 5 falls cause serious injury leading to emergency room treatment and over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall-related injury.

There are many excellent considerations and tools related to preventing falls, including strength and exercise programs, pre-admission assessments, monitoring for drug interactions, assessing changes in walking patterns (gait), installing grab bars, mobility assists, and care-community communication systems.  There are also excellent indicators that a fall has occurred, like alarms, room sensors and motion detectors, and more. The reality, however, is that in spite of all the steps taken to prevent falls, falls still occur. 

Unfortunately, the painful reality of a fall goes far beyond the occurrence itself. The average hospital cost for a fall related injury can be upwards of $30,000. This doesn't even account for the long-term effects these injuries can create, such as needing life-long care upon return home from the hospital, having to be dependent on others, and having a generally reduced quality of life.

What can be done to prevent fall related injuries?

We know that falls are going to happen; how can we help ease the injuries related to falling? With falls occurring so commonly, the best remedy is to ensure that the flooring surface is safe and stable, and provides an added layer of cushioning in order to reduce injuries during the fall that may occur. 

Many of the traditional fall protection intervention devices, such as bedside mats, padded hip protectors, and the like, vary widely in their effectiveness and ease of use. For example, an area mat may present a tripping hazard to a balance-impaired person, which might actually result in them taking a fall due to tripping on the edging of the mat and losing their balance.

The good news, is that a new generation of flooring technology, one that is installed under the top flooring layer, called an underlayment, is currently being tested and is performing well with elderly subjects prone to falling. The underlayment provides a level of confidence for the elderly loved-one, as well as the caregivers. This cushioning layer, if installed under the top flooring, can be everywhere, all of the time, protecting your loved one even during the times when you cannot be there with them. Installation of this type of flooring solution could be a wonderful answer to the problem of fall-related injuries.

Preventing a fall is important, but the fact remains that people still fall. Fall protection flooring just may be an excellent solution to protecting those in your care. To receive a free guide related to fall-protection resources, you can contact me at sgainey@smartcellsusa.com.

Suzanne Gainey is Marketing Manager of Fall Protection for SmartCells USA, a division of SATECH Inc.

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