It's like a riddle but the end result is anything but funny – what is more common than strokes and just as serious? For people age 70 and older, the answer is falls.

"Falls are the most preventable cause of nursing home placement for seniors. They often cause hip fractures, head injuries and even death," explains Jennifer Lee, MSPT, manager of Rehabilitation Services with the VNA of Care New England. "Fall injuries can then lead to problems with daily activities like dressing, bathing and even just walking around. Many time, older people who have fallen never completely recover and their overall health deteriorates."

The facts are that among adults age 70 and older:

  • Three in 10 fall each year
  • Two in 10 who need home health care after being in the hospital will fall during the first month after coming home
  • One in 10 will suffer a serious injury from a fall, such as a broken bone or head injury
  • Five in 10 have problems getting up without help after they have fallen
  • Fall-related injuries cause 16% of all visits to the emergency room, and almost 7% of all hospitalizations

"Falls cause more than 90% of broken hips and only half of those who break a hip will be able to get around like they did before," Lee says simply.

Eliminating risk

There are common health problems that increase a person's chance of falling, including:

  • Problems moving or walking around
  • Taking four or more medications
  • Foot problems or unsafe footwear
  • Blood pressure that drops too much upon standing
  • Vision problems

Print out your own Fall Prevention Checklist to see how many hazards exist in your own home or that of an older loved one.

The good news is that once the problem is identified, it can be treated. Non-medical hazards such as throw rugs in the home are also easy problems to fix.

The VNA of Care New England's Steady Strides Falls Prevention Program is designed to identify these risk factors and eliminating them to reduce falls and fall-related injuries. A physical therapist visits the senior's home to conduct a comprehensive assessment of his or her health risk factors and any causes for falls in the home.

"We then develop a personalized plan for the senior that will help reduce the risk factors for falling," Lee says of the program, which requires a referral from the senior's primary care physician. "The plan may include having a physical or occupational therapist, nurse or home health aide visit the senior to help develop the skills necessary to minimize their risk factors."

Most insurance companies cover the services of the Falls Prevention Program.

For patients not currently receiving home health care from the VNA of Care New England, a physician can request an initial assessment through the Intake Department by calling (401) 737-6050. For patients receiving home health care through the VNA, a nurse will contact the patient's physician for the referral.