UW Health: Falls Prevention Awareness Week is keeping Wisconsin’s older adults on their feet

MADISON, Wis. – In Wisconsin, falls are a significant cause of death and serious injury among older adults, an issue that has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A fall is one of the most frequent causes of injury-related death for people age 65 and older, and the rate of falls in Wisconsin is twice the national average according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The number of falls at home has increased during the pandemic, which could be due to people exercising less, an increase in alcohol consumption or people visiting health care providers less often about concerns that may contribute to a fall,” said Dr. Gerald Pankratz, medical director for the UW Health Mobility and Falls Clinic.

This week is falls prevention awareness week, a national effort to increase awareness that falls are preventable.

At UW Health, geriatricians are working to spread awareness of effective, important methods to prevent falls at home. Community programs are available for people age 65 or older to practice tools for falls prevention, and experts report that visits to the UW Health Mobility and Falls Clinics can decrease the likelihood and severity of a fall up to 50%.  

Here are few of the special programs UW Health is highlighting during Falls Prevention Week:

  • UW Health Mobility and Falls Clinic, led by Dr. Gerald Pankratz, clinical associate professor of medicine (geriatrics), UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH). The clinic’s medical assistants, physical therapists and social workers meet with patients to assess gait, balance and speed, conduct home safety reviews, cognitive screenings and medication reviews, and provide an after-visit summary and recommendations for falls prevention.
  • A community research program under the direction of Dr. Jane Mahoney, professor of medicine, SMPH, focuses on reducing the frequency of falls among older adults living at home. As a physician, she evaluates the risk of falls after a patient’s hospital discharge and the association between falls and impaired cognition. 
  • Mahoney also led the implementation of the “Stepping On” falls prevention program, a community education program now used across Wisconsin and 23 other states. A Spanish-language partner program, Pisando Fuerte, and another mobility program, Tai Chi Prime, are being implemented locally through partnerships with UW Health. 

 Nationally, falls were the leading cause of non-fatal injuries for people age 65 and older, causing 950,000 hospitalizations and 3 million emergency department visits, according to the data from the CDC released in April 2021. 

 In Wisconsin, at least $771 million in hospital charges are attributable to falls each year. And 40% of individuals entering nursing homes had a fall in the previous 30 days, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

A recorded interview with Pankratz is available.