University of Wisconsin, CDC team up to tackle elderly patient falls

With deadly falls on the rise among elderly patients, public health experts are crafting strategies to deal with what they call an “epidemic.”

From 2005 to 2014, post-fall mortality rose more than 35 percent nationwide, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The Badger State is second in the nation for fall mortality among the elderly, with rates more than twice the national average--105 per 100,000 compared to 48 per 100,000 nationwide.

Now, according to the article, University of Wisconsin-Madison specialists are collaborating with experts in Oregon as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop strategies that address risk and preventive care. Teamwork, research has indicated, is vital to fall prevention.

Elderly patients are often embarrassed or ashamed to disclose a fall, according to the CDC’s Hilary Eiring, who told the Journal-Sentinel that more than half of them don’t discuss the fall with their provider. Keeping the fall a secret, she said, keeps them from getting treatment and taking steps to prevent future falls.

Under the strategy developed by experts, called STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries), screening protocols incorporate common risk factors for falls, such as the number and types of medication a patient takes, leg strength, vision and any history of falls. Based on the screening, the program assigns a score for fall risk and makes corresponding recommendations to doctors.

Assessing such risk factors has a track record of success, according to the article. For example, medication review, particularly with sleep aids and anti-anxiety medications, reduce fall risk nearly 40 percent. The risk is heightened for elderly adults, who may continue taking the same dosage they’ve taken for decades despite needing less.

“We know older adults don’t need the same dosage they needed at middle age,” said Jane Mahoney of UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, who helped design the program. “The body metabolizes the drugs differently and they are more susceptible to side effects.”