Falls Are the Leading Injury-Related Cause of ER Visits

Oct. 19, 2010
If you or someone you know has been treated in the emergency department recently after suffering a fall, you are not alone. Unintentional falls are the leading injury-related reason for why people seek emergency care, with almost 9 million visits occurring each year, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The nation’s emergency physicians are prepared to care for anyone injured from a fall,” said Dr. Sandra Schneider, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “But it’s important to look around your everyday environment and minimize the risk to not only for yourself, but for others as well. There is a reason that unintentional falls are common injuries with our patients. They can happen at any time, any place and happen to anyone.”

Falls are the leading cause of unintentional home injury deaths, accounting for 33 percent of deaths, according the Home Safety Council (HSC), and account for more than 40 percent of nonfatal injuries. The two highest risk age groups are children under five and older adults over 70 years old. For children, the most severe falls are generally associated with baby walkers, windows and play equipment, including trampolines. For older adults, falls are associated with lower-body weakness, problems with balance and walking, visual impairment, chronic illness or a history of stroke.

To prevent unintential falls, emergency physicians suggest removing clutter from your home; don’t leave objects on the stairs or walkways. Use nightlights in the bedroom, hall and bathroom. Be sure the tops and bottoms of stairs are well lit, and repair loose stairway carpeting or boards.

In homes with elderly residents, consider adding hand grip bars in a bathroom and shower area, especially for the elderly or those with disabilities, and be sure the bottom of the tub or shower has a non-skid surface. Make your home or work area easily accessible for the elderly or those with disabilities by moving furniture or objects on the floor that could cause tripping hazards. Especially for elderly people, remove throw rugs and tack down other rugs to avoid tripping. Also consider using a panic button (as a pendant, wristband or necklace).

“A fall can be a sentinel event in the life of an older person, potentially marking the beginning of a serious decline in function or the symptom of a new or worsening medical condition,” said Schneider. “Identifying the cause of the fall and making appropriate interventions to improve function are as critical as treating injuries if future falls are to be prevented and quality of life and longevity are to be improved.”

For children, make sure they wear helmets and other protective gear if biking or playing any type of contact sport. Inspect child playground equipment to make sure it is age appropriate and in good condition. Play areas should be covered with padding, such as shredded mulch, wood chips, gravel or fine sand.

Keep stairs clear of toys and other items that could cause someone to trip. If young children are allowed on stairs, teach them to hold the handrail and always tie their shoes so they avoid tripping. Set up locking gates near stairs to block young children if they are too young to be on them. If you have windows that easily can be opened by children, consider installing window guards with quick release mechanisms that easily can be opened in case of a fire.

To see ACEP’s Home Safety Checklist, go to http://www.acep.org/workarea/downloadasset.aspx?id=8716.

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