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Senior Citizen's Guide to Connecticut

Tips for Preventing Costly Falls

Every year, one in three people ages 65 years old and older has a fall. The risk increases with age and can lead to serious injury, including hip fractures and head injuries, as well as hospitalization, loss of independence and even death. Fortunately, there are ways to limit the risk of a fall for yourself and a loved one.

Falls can be costly, both physically and economically.

In 2008, emergency departments across the country treated 2.1 million people who were injured in a fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 559,000 of those people required hospitalization as a result of their injuries, the CDC says. Falls not only affect the injured, but also caregivers, family members and even entire communities.

According to the CDC, $19 billion is spent on medical care related to falls, excluding family caregiving, home care, loss of productivity and the costs of remodeling a home to make it safer. By 2020, the annual direct and indirect costs of falls are expected to reach $54.9 billion.

"This is a very serious issue for people as they age," said Eina G. Fishman, M.D., M.S., C.P.E., which serves thousands of seniors through its health care plan. "Chances are you know someone in your own family who has been impacted. Falls affect both men and women equally and there is no single cause. They are unpredictable. The trigger can be anything from an adverse drug interaction to a loose rug. The consequences can be life interrupting."

"In the past, falls probably haven't gotten as much attention as they warranted, considering their impact," said Fishman. "Thankfully, that is changing. Many people are now working to raise awareness of the dangers of falls, a day dedicated to falls prevention."

Falling does not have to be inevitable result of aging. There are a number of ways to protect yourself or a loved one, according to the experts, including the following:

Exercise regularly.

Physical activity increases balance, strength and flexibility. Some insurers offer a free gym membership as part of their Medicare Advantage plans. People with this benefit should make sure to take advantage of it.

Schedule an appointment with a primary care physician (PCP) for a medication review.

Older people tend to take more medications than younger people. This increases their risk to adverse drug interactions, including side effects like dizziness and drowsiness that can lead to falls. A PCP can help by reviewing a person's medications for possible interactions, including over-the-counter medicines. Medicare Advantage plans include a service under which at-risk beneficiaries can have their medications reviewed by a clinician at no extra cost. The first step, of course, is being aware that falling is a common adverse effect of some drugs.

Have a vision checkup.

Vision problems, including issues such as poor depth perception, can lead to falls. Those with glasses should wear them at all times, especially when getting up during the night. Some Medicare Advantage plans have a vision benefit. Others offer a vision benefit at an additional cost. With or without this benefit, seniors should get their eyes checked regularly to see if there have been any vision changes.

Remove obstacles form around the home.

Data compiled by the National Health Interview Surveys indicate that 55 percent of all injuries among older people occurred inside the home. An additional 23 percent occurred outside, but near the house. Many of these falls can be prevented by eliminating hazards such as clutter, poor lighting, loose rugs, etc., and/or adding safety features, such as grab bars and railings.

Wear low-heeled rubber-soled shoes.

Slippers are slippery. Ditch them in favor of athletic shoes, which improve balance. According to research from the Institute for Aging Research, falls are much less likely to occur to those who wear athletic shoes compared to those who go barefooted or wear only socks or slippers.

Use a cane, walker or other device if needed to prevent falls.

Doctors can prescribe durable medical equipment for their patients in need. Most or the costs of such equipment may be covered by Medicare, as long as it is purchased or rented through an approved supplier that accepts Medicare assignment. Supplemental insurance may cover any additional costs.

Take advantage of disease management programs offered through an insurer.

Some insurers offer programs at no additional cost through their Medicare Advantage plans that identify those at risk of falling and suggest possible precautions for avoiding a fall.

"Thankfully, there are many resources available to lessen an individual's risk of falling," said Fishman. "The key is education – learning about these things and implementing them to stop a fall before it happens."

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