The Rise of Falls in an Aging Nation

As people live longer, the amount of older Americans who fall and suffer from serious injuries is increasing. Therefore, retirement communities, assisted living facilities and nursing homes are trying to balance safety and the residents’ desire to live freely.
The Sequoias, a retirement community in San Francisco, required their residents to remain seated while the staff served them their meals. This policy lasted until a woman sued to stop the policy, upset that it infringed upon her freedom.
Researchers who study retirement facilities state that currently there is more awareness and attention directed towards preventing falls. Retirement facilities and nursing homes hire architects and spend large sums of money to ensure that the facility is equiped to house seniors. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, a nonprofit organization, and the National Institute on Aging recently had a five-year, $30-million study on fall prevention among seniors.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, nearly 220,000 nursing home residents experience a fall. Among the 220,000 people, 70,000 are injured. As of now, Medicare will not pay to treat an injury resulting from a fall in a hospital, and many health policy experts believe that Medicare should institute the same policy for nursing homes.
“Medicare needs to focus more on preventing falls in nursing homes, including not paying to treat injuries that arise from these events,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, a professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The dangers of falling are real. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 24,000 people over the age of 65 died after a fall. Researchers say that medication used to treated diabetes, heart disease, stroke and arthritis can increase the risk of falling. Furthermore, in 2012 more than 2.4 million people over the age of 65 were treated in an emergency facility for injuries from a fall. From 2002-2012, more than 200,000 American seniors died from falls. At this time, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths for people over 65.
Unfortunately, many residents are in denial of their own gradual decline, leaving them vulnerable despite facilities best efforts to look after them. Facilities provide sessions on avoiding a fall. But some residents only attend after they have fallen.
“As the saying goes in the Army,” says Mrs. Hammer, a resident at The Sequoias, “they can’t make you do anything, but they can make you wish you had.”