MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin health officials say falls among the elderly are taking a financial and physical toll in a state that is older than most.

Wisconsin ranks second in fall-related deaths in the U.S. among those 65 and older, with a rate that’s twice the nationwide average, according to the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging.

That fatality rate has risen over the last two decades, University of Wisconsin-Madison geriatrics professor Jane Mahoney tells Wisconsin Public Radio .

“Our fall-related emergency department visits have also increased over that time and there are many reasons for this but one is just the sheer numbers related to the aging of the population,” Mahoney said.

Estimates show that by 2030, as many as a quarter of the state’s residents will be elderly, with fewer younger people to care for them, Mahoney said.

“That is going to put a disproportionate burden of falls in our rural, northern population,” she said.

It’s a concern in every corner of the state. In 2013, Green Bay’s four hospitals treated an average of 21 serious falls every day, at a cost of nearly $15 million annually. The number of patients and the cost have both increased since then: 23 serious falls reported in area emergency rooms each day at a cost of nearly $19 million a year, said Michaels.

The most widespread fall prevention program used in Wisconsin is called Stepping On. Recently, a group of seniors gathered in a Dane County gymnasium where they learned how to avoid serious spills. Evelyn Graf, 81, had an elastic bandage on her wrist and was using a walker to get around.

“I have fallen so many times I don’t keep track anymore,” she said.

Graf said she’s never broken any bones. Her older sister, Gladys Bookhout, 82, hasn’t been so lucky. She and her husband, Bob Bookhout, recalled a pair of falls, including an incident where she lost her footing in a parking lot.

“I broke three ribs. Right, Bob? Three ribs,” she said.

“Punctured lung. And a second fall,” Bob added. “First fall fractured your right hip, your arm, you tore up the rotator cuff in your shoulder.”


Information from: Wisconsin Public Radio, http://www.wpr.org

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