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Fall prevention strategies for seniors a matter of life and death

Upon the release of a new report from the Senate, discussions were held to strengthen efforts to address this reoccurring issue.

Falls are one of the leading causes of injury-related deaths for older Americans, and measures to solve this issue were examined in the Senate during a Falls Prevention hearing on Wednesday.

The Senate Aging Committee heard from witnesses to discuss strategies at the national, state and local level to reduce the number of falls-related injuries which can lead to death among senior citizens in the U.S.

“This is a health issue that crosses all genders, ethnicities, and income levels,” said Kathleen Cameron, the senior director of the Center for Healthy Aging, who testified before the committee calling falls prevention a “critical priority” for the organization.

Cameron lost her mother to a hip injury that resulted from a fall and says her efforts to work toward prevention is a “personal one.”

Today, the committee released their bipartisan report today highlighting some of the key fall prevention facts and strategies.

According to the Chairwoman of the Committee, Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, fall-related injuries cost the U.S. about $50 billion a year. That number is expected to double to $100 billion by 2030.

“This is an issue where we know what to do,” said Senator Collins. “And yet, we’re slashing reimbursements, we’re not focused on it, the public is not aware of how significant falls are.”

Collins also said that while Medicare covers some forms of bone testing, about 70 percent of reimbursement rates have been cut since 2007. As a result, more seniors are suffering from hip fractures each year.

Senior Program Manager for the National Council on Aging, Kathleen Zuke agreed that falls prevention is a top priority.

“This is an issue that often goes unrecognized. It’s nice there is a hearing about this,” said Zuke.

According to the National Council on Aging, every 19 minutes one older adult dies from a fall and by 2030, 7 older adults will die from falls every hour if the current issue is not fixed.

CEO of the National Osteoporosis Foundation, Liz Thompson, also lost her father to a fall-related injury. She said the foundation is calling for an “aggressive” call to action in their new report to ensure changes in policy, so seniors don’t continue to become victims of falls.

“We have to keep the individual patients and their stories front and center,” said Thompson.

The bipartisan task to strengthen preventative strategies included home modifications, medicine management, and adequate transportation for older Americans living in rural areas to receive medical treatment and therapy.

Another suggestion across the board was funding for evidence-based prevention programs. Sen. Collins and Sen. Bob Casey, D-PA, are working together to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, which funds services like those programs that keep seniors healthy.

Advocate Virginia Demby of Chester, PA, testified that she encourages older Americans to improve their balance and strength through exercise, but injuries and treatment costs have an effect on their perspective.

“Older adults lose confidence. They become fearful,” Demby said. She agreed with other witness that education for Americans in their 40s and 50s should be

Sen. Bob Casey, D-PA, said seniors should also feel encouraged to speak up. “We must remove the stigma associated with falling so that they can get the help they need,” Casey said.

Both witnesses and senators shared a personal account during the hearing, including Sen. Rosen, D-NV who fell and broke her wrist and Sen. Collins who fell and broke her ankle two years ago.

“To this day, I have a fear of falling.” Collins said, “We need to teach people at an earlier age about what you can do to reduce the possibility of a fall.”

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