It’s a simple but important health problem: Older adults fall down a lot, and when they do, they often are badly injured.
The Erie County Health Department has received a $330,000 state health department grant, spread out over five years, to do the best it can to reduce the risks for older adults here.
The injury prevention grant from the health department began Jan. 1, said Sharon Schaeffer, RN, director of community health for the health department. Erie County was one of three counties in the state that got the grant.
The county had to select from three current hot topics in public health to decide what to concentrate on — traumatic brain injuries to children from sports and bicycle accidents; prescription drug overdoses; and falls by older adults. All three are important problems, but because of Erie County’s aging population, the health department decided to concentrate on falls, Schaeffer said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta says falls are a major source of both fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults.
In 2010, 2.3 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults were treated in emergency departments, and more than 662,000 of these patients were hospitalized, according to the CDC.
Falls are a common cause of traumatic brain injuries among older adults and frequently cause fractures.
The CDC recommends older adults exercise regularly and ask their doctor or pharmacist to review medicines that can cause faintness or dizziness. Older adults also should have their eyes checked once a year and make their homes safer by adding railings and eliminating tripping hazards.
Schaeffer said the health department plans to offer classes in stretching exercises at churches and other locations. They help seniors build up strength and balance so they’re less likely to fall, Schaeffer said.
The health department also wants to work with the fire department to eliminate risk factors at home that make falls more likely, such as no handrails on front steps and slippery rugs.
Health officials also plan to encourage local doctors to carry out screenings to find patients who are unsteady on their feet, Schaeffer said.
Erie County health officials are well aware they’ll need help in the effort. They plan to build a local coalition, concentrating especially on forming alliances with agencies that work with the elderly, such as Serving Our Seniors, the senior center in downtown Sandusky and the Area Office on Aging of Northwest Ohio, which is located in Toledo and serves Erie and Ottawa counties, among others.