Fall prevention a key to better quality-of-life for seniors

“Falls happen. . . but falls are preventable.”

This was the key message from Dr. Perry A. Frankel during the monthly meeting of seniors, medical professionals and health advocates who are members of the Senior Umbrella Network of Brooklyn (SUN-B) – a networking and advocacy group focused on senior health and elder care.

May was National Older Americans Month, but fall prevention is a year-round concern. Fall prevention requires a combination of education about risks and symptoms, self-awareness as to feelings of imbalance, and potential diagnostic testing and medical treatment, said Frankel, a practicing cardiologist in New Hyde Park, Long Island who is also the director of Heart 2 Heart.

“The number one cause of accidental death for seniors is falls – they kill 15,000 seniors a year and result in more than 1.5 million visits to emergency rooms a year,” Frankel told the crowd. “One out of three seniors falls and 75 percent of them fall repeatedly. [And] once you fall and injure yourself, such as with a hip fracture, the chance of mortality goes up.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the cost of falling down includes financial, as well as physical, costs, since Medicare has spent between $19 billion and $30 billion per year in treating nonfatal fall injuries, including fees for hospital and nursing home care, doctors, rehabilitation, medication, equipment and administrative costs.

This estimate does not include, however, the emotional and long-term toll that fall-related injuries have on a person’s independence, lost work time, disability needs and general quality of life.

That is why, said Frankel, “if you want to balance the [country’s] deficit, you’ve got to balance people.”

Balance naturally begins to taper off with age, particularly as a person approaches 60 years of age. More pronounced and frequent dizzy spells, a sense of vertigo, inner ear problems, increased fatigue, vision problems and unsteadiness on one’s feet when walking up and down stairs or even just standing still are all symptoms that can contribute to a greater risk of falling down.

Symptoms of vestibular disorders – disorder in a person’s ability to maintain balance, perceive motion, and react to light and movement – include dizziness, vertigo and imbalance, but also include headaches, a spinning sensation, nausea and vomiting, difficulty concentrating, and sensitivity to bright lights and noises.

Vestibular disorders can be caused by head trauma, ear infections and a negative reaction to medication. Treatment can include therapy and greater caution in certain circumstances.

But growing older does not mean that falling down and relying on canes or a helping hand is inevitable.

According to Frankel, vestibular testing can help determine the cause of a patient’s dizziness, vertigo and imbalance at a lower cost and more convenience than more expensive MRIs. There are different types of vestibular tests available.

To find out more about fall prevention, visit StopFalls.org and the National Council On Aging (http://www.ncoa.org/improve-health/falls-prevention/).

To find out more about vestibular testing and therapy, visit the New York Eye and Ear InfirmaryNYU’s Rusk Institute

To find out more about SUN-B, visit www.SunB.org.

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