Home Health and Body Falls contributing to rise in ER visits by seniors

Falls contributing to rise in ER visits by seniors

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A rise in falls among the elderly is leading to more emergency-room visits, according to officials. Outcomes include wounds and a loss of independence. File photo

According to national studies, emergency-room trips are on the rise among the elderly — and falls are often the primary culprit.

Locally, this largely could be due to the increase in the population of seniors, said Laura Breeden, a Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio spokeswoman.

According to the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, tumbles can result from a number of other medical conditions or instances.

“Way too many (seniors) come in from a … fall from tripping over something, or shoe wear, or not knowing their medication can cause dizziness,” said Gina Dawson, director of physical therapy at Methodist Ambulatory Surgery Hospital.

“A Place for Mom” senior-living blog alerts caregivers to 10 conditions that could trigger an ER visit.

Among the most common: abdominal pain or nausea, which may be caused by dehydration, malnutrition or infection; adverse reactions to medications or interactions with other drugs; chest pain; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; pneumonia; and urinary tract infections.

Meanwhile, injuries attributed to falls among seniors have consistently risen for two decades, reports the National Council on Aging and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Each year, almost one-third of seniors take a spill.

“Despite what most people may think, the majority of trauma calls in San Antonio are not for car accidents, shootings or other violence,” saccording to a release from, Baptist Health System. “Of all emergency trauma transports to Baptist Health System hospitals, a whopping 72 percent are for simple falls. Of those, 92 percent are considered a fall from standing/ground level.”

Falls are a huge problem but are not an inevitable result of aging, officials said. As part of Falls Prevention Day, Baptist Health System officials Sept. 23 demonstrated fall-prevention tips and shared fall-prevention strategies to protect older adults from falls.

In 2013, a reported 2.5 million nonfatal falls were treated in emergency departments nationwide, according to the Methodist Healthcare website. Reducing the figure could significantly affect the number of ER visits by the elderly, physicians said.

“As baby boomers grow older, injury from falls can impact their quality of life,” Dawson said.

While head trauma is arguably the worst outcome, other wounds could have lifestyle repercussions, such as loss of independence and the ability to live on one’s own.

Fall-related accidents among those 60-plus might mean substantial economic costs, too.

The CDC reports $20 billion spent annually to treat older adults for injuries caused by falls, of which 60 to 70 percent are preventable.

In addition, according to the National Library of Medicine and NIH, 12 out of 100 seniors older than 65 sought emergency care for injury and 36 of 100 for illness during 2012-2013.

To help limit the number of ER journeys, Schertz Emergency Medical Services in 2012 began its Mobile Integrated Health program, whereby paramedics visit the homes of individuals identified as making numerous 911 calls.

Schertz’s actions lessened EMS transports and ER visits by connecting patients to primary-care physicians and other community-care resources before an emergency happened.

The city has linked its MIH unit with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, care-provider services in the Randolph Metrocom area, and University Health Systems, as well as formed a consortium, which includes the San Antonio Fire Department MIH.

All this seems to be helping, officials said.

SAFD spokesman Joseph Arrington said, “San Antonio Fire Department EMS is a very busy EMS service. However, we have not had a notable increase in calls related specifically to elderly patients.”

Programs such as Methodist Healthcare’s “Keep Upright” are available to educate the elderly and their caregivers in preventing stumbles. The one-hour class is available for nursing homes, senior centers, churches and any group of 20-plus, to teach “six tips of fall prevention.”

The National Council on Aging recommends the initiative. For more or to schedule a tutorial, contact gina.dawson@MHSHealth.com or call 210-575-5026.

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