OPED: Living a life free from falls

Pam Gay
York County coroner

For most adults, dying a natural death in their later years is the norm. However, surprisingly, every year there is a segment of our aging population who die as a result of something that can often be simply prevented. This year to date, more than 60 adults over the age of 55 have died an unnatural, traumatic death here in York County -- either directly or indirectly related to a fall. And according to the Center for Disease Control, every 20 minutes in this country, an older person dies from a fall.

In our office, we see various types of situations that lead up to an older adult dying from a fall. Some fall while trying to walk up or down steps, some trip on throw rugs, some fall while attempting movement around a cluttered living space, some don’t have proper railing, some have poor lighting, some have improperly fitting footwear and some have medical conditions that contribute to their loss of balance or unsteadiness on their feet.

One of the biggest mistakes an older adult can make in regards to a fall is NOT reporting it to anyone. Many times, they are embarrassed or worried about telling their doctor or a family member because it could mean they might lose their independence. But those first few minutes or hours after a fall can often be a matter of life and death.

By refusing to report the fall or delaying treatment right after a fall, the older adult unknowingly puts him or herself at high risk for brain injuries, hip or rib fractures, blood clots, respiratory complications and more. Many older adults are also on blood thinners which can make a fall even more deadly as they bleed more easily and the bleeding can become uncontrolled. Even if the older adult survives the fall with a hip fracture, according to the CDC, one in five will die within a year. And the average cost of hospitalization for an older adult who falls is $35,000. Many are never able to live independently again.

The Falls Free Coalition of York County is a collaboration of multiple organizations whose goal is to partner with the community to increase fall prevention awareness. One effective means to accomplish this is to educate older adults regarding falls prevention and decrease their risk of falls through an award-winning program called “A Matter of Balance”. These free classes are offered by York County Area Agency on Aging, WellSpan Health Trauma Services and the York City Bureau of Health. Numerous programs are scheduled at multiple locations in the county throughout the year. A complete list of classes can be found at .

Risk assessments that the Falls Free Coalition conducted last year with senior adults at the 2015 50 Plus Expo showed that almost half of those assessed were at risk for a fall and they were then referred to their family physician for some follow-up. The Falls Free Coalition will again be at this year’s 50 Plus Expo — next Wednesday, 9/28 — at the York Expo Center Memorial Hall, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

We encourage York County’s older adults to come to the event and complete the assessment to determine their risk for a fall. All those who participate will receive a free gift, and there will be Falls Free Coalition members there with lots of helpful fall prevention information and demonstrations, including how to make their home safer and how assistive devices can enable the older adult to stay independent longer.

Pam Gay, RN, is York County coroner