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Herb Weiss, contributing writer
in Woonsocket Call on October 20, 2019)
Last Wednesday morning in Dirksen Senate Office Building
562, the U.S. Special Committee on Aging held a hearing to put a spotlight on
the economic consequences on falls and to explore ways to prevent and reduce
falls and related injuries. At the one hour and 55-minute hearing, titled
“Falls Prevention: National, State, and Local Level Solutions to Better Support
Seniors,” its annual report, Falls Prevention: Solutions to Better Support
Seniors, was released.
According to the Senate Aging Committee, falls are the
leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults that incur
$50 billion annually in total medical costs. That number is expected to double
to $100 billion by 2030, and the majority of these costs are borne by Medicare
“Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries
for older Americans, often leading to a downward spiral with serious
consequences. In addition to the physical and emotional trauma of falls, the
financial toll is staggering,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs
the Senate Aging Committee. “Now is the time, and now is our opportunity, to
take action to prevent falls. Our bipartisan report includes key
recommendations to take steps to reduce the risk of falls,” the Maine Senator
noted in an Oct. 16 statement.
Pushing for Positive Change in Releasing Fall Report
“We must dispel our loved ones of the stigma associated with
falling so that they can get the help they need to age in place – where they
want to be – in their homes and communities,” said Sen. Robert P. Casey, Jr.
(D-Pa.). “I am hopeful that our work over the past year will propel the
research community to do more, get more dollars invested into supporting home
modifications and encourage more older adults to be active,” said the Special
Committee’s Ranking Member.
At the hearing, the Committee unveiled a comprehensive
report that provides evidence-based recommendations on ways to reduce the risk
of falling. The Committee received input from multiple federal agencies,
including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare
and Medicaid Services, and the Food and Drug Administration. In addition,
approximately 200 respondents representing falls prevention advocates,
hospitals, community organizations, home health agencies, and others shared
their expertise on this issue.
The 34-page Aging Committee’s report made recommendations as
how to raise awareness about falls-related risks, prevention and recovery at
the national, state and local levels. It suggested ways of improving screening
and referrals for those at risk of falling so that individuals receive the
preventive care necessary to avoid a fall or recover after one. It noted ways
of targeting modifiable risk factors, including increasing the availability of
resources for home safety evaluations and modifications, so that older adults
can remain in their homes and communities. Finally, it called for reducing
polypharmacy so that health care providers and patients are aware of any
potential side effects that could contribute to a fall.
Increasing Medicare Funding for Bone Density Testing
In an opening statement, Collins noted that falls are often
times attributed to uneven sidewalks or icy stairs, medications, medical
reasons or muscle strength. But one key cause of falling is osteoporosis, which
can be especially dangerous for people who are completely unaware that they
suffer from low bone density, she says.
According to Collins, although Medicare covers bone density
testing, reimbursement rates have been slashed by 70 percent since 2006,
resulting in 2.3 million fewer women being tested. “As a result, it is
estimated that more than 40,000 additional hip fractures occur each year, which
results in nearly 10,000 additional deaths,” she said, noting legislation,
Increasing Access to Osteoporosis Testing Beneficiaries Act that she has
introduced with Sen. Ben Cardin,” to reverse these harmful reimbursement cuts.
Casey stated, “I am particularly interested in sharing this
report with the relevant agencies and learning how the recommendations will be
implemented. Not just put in a report. Implemented,” adds Casey.
Peggy Haynes, MPA, Senior Director, of Portland-based
Healthy Aging, MaineHealth that offers A Matter of Balance, an evidence-based
falls prevention program, came to the Senate hearing to share details about its
impact. “The health care community has a critical role to play in fall
prevention – beginning with screening for falls, assessing fall risk factors,
reviewing medications and referring to both medical and community-based fall
prevention interventions. Our health system is focused on preventing falls in
every care setting,” says Haynes.
“The need for a range of community-based options led
MaineHealth to be a founding member of the Evidence Based Leadership
Collaborative, promoting the increased delivery of multiple evidence-based
programs that improve the health and well-being of diverse populations,” adds
Haynes noted that older participants attend eight two-hour
sessions to help them reduce their fear of falling, assisting them to set
realistic goals for increasing their activity and changing their home
environment to reduce fall risk factors. A Matter of Balance is offered in 46
states reaching nearly 100,000 seniors.
Virginia Demby, an 84-year-old visually-impaired retired
nurse who is an advocate for Community and Older Adults, in Chester,
Pennsylvania, came to the Senate hearing to support the importance of fall
prevention programs. Despite living with low vision, Demby remains physically
active by participating in exercises classes for older adults at the Center for
the Blind and Visually Impaired in Chester. She is an advocate for older adults
and now helps the local senior center wellness manager recruit more seniors to
take falls prevention classes and find new places to offer the classes.
Kathleen A. Cameron, MPH, Senior Director, Center for
Healthy Aging, of the Arlington, Virginia-based National Council on Aging,
discussed the work of the National Falls Prevention Resource Center, which
helps to support evidence-based falls prevention programs across the nation and
highlighted policy solutions to reduce falls risk.
Finally, Elizabeth Thompson, chief executive officer,
Arlington, Virginia-based National Osteoporosis Foundation, testified that bone
loss and osteoporosis are fundamental underlying contributors to the worst
consequences of falls among older Americans: broken and fractured bones.
Osteoporotic fractures are responsible for more hospitalizations than heart
attacks, strokes and breast cancer combined, she noted.
For details of the Senate Aging Committee report, go to http://www.aging.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/SCA_Falls_Report_2019.pdf