changing the way we think about fall prevention
For many older adults and their healthcare providers, falls are something to be prepared for, rather than avoided. According to the CDC, falls affect over 25% of the elderly American each year, and can often lead to further hospitalizations and other injuries. However, despite this high rate of occurrence, many medical professionals and trailblazers believe that there are growing opportunities to reduce and, perhaps, eliminate the high risk of falls in elderly populations.
While some studies, like Harvard Pilgrim’s STRIDE trial, saw inconclusive results in their attempts to design new fall prevention strategies, preventing falls has gained traction as a key way to lower mortality rates in vulnerable populations. In one case-control study from the Washington University School of Medicine, participating researchers found that fall prevention programs should target patients with abnormal gaits, lower extremity problems, or are using certain medications. While this conclusion may seem obvious at first, it is actually very important to the progression of the conversation on tailoring elderly adults’ medications to reflect their unique risk factors. Medication and risk-reduction solutions are no longer one-size-fits-all strategies, and personalized solutions to each are key to seeing improved individual outcomes.
Another study from the Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute in North Carolina found that high-risk populations—generally those who have already experienced a fall or hip fracture—echoes that sentiment. Community-based prevention programs are highlighted as key to helping community-based populations healthy, but once again the lack of individualized risk assessment and management is an obstacle to reducing falls overall. Collaborative intervention to actively link a patient to evidence-based prevention programs is recommended as a key action for fall prevention, again highlighting the need for personalized approaches to prevention.
And, on the very cutting edge, some healthcare providers are looking to analytics technology as the future of fall prevention. A Californian hospital, El Camino, has been using predictive analytics from Qventus to cut back on its hospital fall rates by 39%. Patients predicted to be at-risk or on the verge of a fall are marked with wristbands and slippers, and their records are marked accordingly. Similarly, some in-home care providers have shifted to wearables and other data-tracking devices in an attempt to bring the success of programs like El Camino’s to the patient’s home. In a 2020 Dutch study, researchers found that wearable technology was a highly feasible method for preventing falls, a conclusion that will hopefully be corroborated by pilot programs in England and the US.
Regardless of the approach, it is clear that innovation is the only way forward in fall prevention. Be it wearable tech, AI, deeper care plan personalization, or a new, undiscovered solution, a world with fewer falls may be on the horizon.