Injuries from falls in patients 65 and older leading trauma cases as Carilion

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - Serious injuries to those aged 65 and older are on the rise in our area. In fact, the trauma unit at Carilion has seen a dramatic increase over recent years.

More than 2,400 trauma patients come through Carilion's emergency room each year.

The majority of those are now patients aged 65-years and older and are hurt from falls.

Sarah Beth Dinwiddie RN, BSN, the outreach coordinator at Carilion's trauma unit says it isn't only a local issue. In the United States, approximately 2.5 million older adults are treated annually in the emergency departments for fall injuries, making falls a leading cause of injury for those 65 and older.

"2015 was the first year that our fall related injuries actually surpassed motor vehicle crash injuries. It's a big deal," Dinwiddie said.

That means that ground level falls are now the number one cause of injury at Carilion's trauma unit.

According to Carilion, those related injuries add up 36-percent of all trauma patients, more than car, motorcycle and pedestrian related crashes combined.

"Our baby boomers are becoming older and aging and living longer," Dinwiddie said. "They are staying independent and healthy longer. So now we are seeing a greater injury in these people too."

Although a healthier lifestyle allows longer independence Dinwiddie says often long-term problems such as broken bones or serious head trauma caused by fall's end up taking that independence away.

Falls aren't only a problem at home. Meg Scheaffel RN, is the Chief Nursing officer at Carilion. She says, that falls are the number one adverse event that could happen in a hospital.

It's a nation-wide problem that's gained government attention. Fall rates are now part of the safety scores for hospitals.

"We here at Carilion have worked diligently to decrease our internal falls and we have done so over the past year 33-percent," Scheaffel said.

Dinwiddie recommends aging patients as well as their families to do walk-throughs of homes to identify potential fall hazards. She says to clear walkways, and keep them well- lit.

She says often falls are caused when patients get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. She recommends to keep lights on, not to wonder in the dark and always wear glasses during these trips.

She also says pets can often be a fall hazard, so always be mindful of where they are in the home.

Dinwidde says that often medications can not only complicate treatment of patients, but can actually cause falls.

She advises patients to review side-effects of all medications with doctors so that they know what time of day to take medication to minimize falling, as well as eliminating unnecessary medication.

Carilion Clinic and Lewis Gale are co-sponsoring a Fall Prevention Summit for health care professionals on Friday, April 8th in Roanoke. Topics discussed will include "The Problem of Falls in Virginia" and "Preventing Falls and Protecting Patients from Fall Related Injury." 200 medical professionals are expected to attend.

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