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Other Voices: Take steps to prevent falls in twilight years

The story is all too familiar: Someone we know – a grandmother, a cherished aunt, a neighbor – falls, breaks a hip, is hospitalized and then released to a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation. And they may never fully recover, perhaps even die some months later.

The Falls Prevention Coalition of Nevada County is on a mission: To reduce the risk of falls or, at the very least, their severity among Nevada County’s seniors.

It is the coalition’s belief that falls are not an inevitable consequence of aging – that there are prevention strategies that can help seniors maintain their independence and sustain their quality of life. Perhaps our motto says it best: “Working together to stop falls!”



The coalition, with support from the Board of Supervisors and the cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City, is declaring Sept. 21-28 “Falls Prevention Week” in Nevada County.

Recently the California Senate and Assembly passed a resolution proclaiming those same dates “Fall Awareness Week” for the entire state. Nevada County is one of two locations in California where major events will be taking place.




Here’s what we know: In people over 60, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths and the most common cause of hospital admissions due to injury. Indeed, falls account for 87 percent of all fractures in people 65 and older and are the second leading cause of spinal cord and brain injury.

And the numbers of people who fall are rising. Between 1991 and 2004 in California, there was a 43 percent increase in the number of people age 50 and older who were hospitalized due to falls. In Nevada County, there was an 86 percent increase.

These additional Nevada County statistics reinforce why falls are a public health issue that we must address:

• In 2005, of the 1,035 people hospitalized because of injuries, 514 were hospitalized due to falls. Almost 70 percent were 65 years of age and older.

• In 2005, more than 1,200 seniors went to the ER due to a fall.

• It’s estimated that the 1,200 figure represents only 22 percent of those who fell.

• The total cost of hospitalization for the 356 seniors (age 65 and older) admitted in 2005 due to falls in Nevada County alone was about $11.5 million.

Yes, the statistics tell a grim tale. The simple fact is that if you are over 60, you are at serious risk of injury from falling.

Yet there is hope. The factors that put people at risk for falls are well documented, and there are things we can do to prevent falls. They include:

• Medical management. Many medications and drug interactions have effects that increase the risk of falling. This includes over-the-counter meds and herbals.

• Physical activity. Improving strength and balance can reduce the risk of falling.

• Home safety. Simple measures, such as installing grab bars, improving lighting and reducing clutter, that improve safety in the home can reduce fall risk, such.

• Modifying behavior. Staying hydrated and eating healthy foods, having our vision checked, getting up more slowly, and slowing down are just a few ways we can reduce falls risk.

Falls Prevention Week, co-sponsored by the Elder Care Providers Coalition, will begin with a kick-off event on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 21, the first day of fall.

We’ll have presentations and workshops on how to reduce your risk of falling, and there will be entertainment (by the Strum Bums and Grass Valley Hula Dancers), a vendor fair and we’ll serve a healthy meal – all at no cost. Throughout the week, we’ll offer workshops at several locations.

To sign-up for the kick-off event and learn more about it and the rest of the week’s activities, call HelpLine at 273-2273. Gold Country Telecare, 272-1710, will provide transportation to the kick-off event for those eligible for their services.

Whether you’re a senior, an interested family member or a caregiver, Falls Prevention Week will provide useful information to help you or a loved one reduce the risk of falling. Call HelpLine today. The independence you save may be your own.

The Falls Prevention Coalition of Nevada County is made possible by a grant from the Archstone Foundation. Falls Prevention Week is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Adult and Family Services Commission.

Dan Bibelheimer, of Nevada City, is the medical director of Sierra Nevada Medical Administration-IPA and president of the Sierra Nevada Community Health Plan. Cynthia Schuetz, of Grass Valley, is the coordinator of the Falls Prevention Coalition.


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