According to a report from the Center for Disease Control, Wisconsin has the highest rate of deadly falls for older adults in the nation — more than double the national average. Falls by those 65 and older led to 129,000 emergency room visits and nearly 16,000 hospital stays in 2017, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. These fatal falls have increased by 50 percent from 2007 – 2016.
While the Wisconsin State Journal reports that it’s not exactly clear why the state has such a high number of fatal falls, they do note that researchers credit icy winters, excessive drinking and an older population than the U.S. average.
Building awareness about the high incidence of elderly falls is critical. While many would point to Wisconsin’s icy winters as a culprit — and most of Wisconsin’s deadly falls do occur in December and January — researchers note that many states with similar weather do not report the same rate of falls. And it’s worth noting that the majority of falls among older adults happen indoors.
Another factor is alcohol. Wisconsin leads the nation in excessive drinking, even among people 65 and older. Nearly 32 percent of elderly fatal falls in 2017 were related to alcohol. As people age, it takes less alcohol to become intoxicated and people tend to stay intoxicated longer.
The most common fall injuries for older adults are hip fractures, traumatic brain injuries and fractures to arms, legs, hands and ankles. Many of the deaths from falls occur days, weeks or months after the fall itself. Some simply don’t recover from the fall, or from surgeries or open wounds that result from the fall.
- Be aware of the side effects of certain medications that may affect your balance or make you dizzy
- Carry a cellphone with you at all times, or an alert system mechanism, that will allow you to call for help in the event you fall
- Consider taking Vitamin D to improve bone health and decrease the likelihood of fractures
- Visit an optometrist to have your eyes checked and update your glasses as needed
- Install raised toilet seats and grab bars in bathrooms
- Utilize a walk-in tub or shower and install non-slip mats or strips to prevent falls
- Utilize night lights to help brighten darkened portions of your home
- If you struggle with walking up and down stairs, ask for assistance and avoid using the stairs when you are home alone
- Remove floor rugs or secure them with double-sided tape
- Keep floors and stairways free of clutter and items that may trip you
- Install handrails on both sides of your stairway
- Exercise regularly — tai chi, yoga and bicycling can improve your lower body strength and balance
- If you do fall, visit your doctor’s office or the emergency room to be certain you do not have any injuries