Preventing Falls: A New Protocol
Falls are among the most serious and common problems that threaten independence and quality of life for older adults.  Seniors visited the emergency room 28,224 times in 2010 with fall-related injuries, at a cost of over $19 million, according to the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission. Of these injuries, 4,043 (14.3 percent) occurred in the home.
In response to this serious public health problem, legislation was introduced in 2012 by Del. Sam Arora. Though the legislation did not pass, lawmakers asked the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) and the Department of Aging (MDoA) jointly develop a statewide protocol for home safety inspections for seniors discharged from the hospital following a fall. 
DHMH and MDoA put together a Falls Protocol Workgroup in August 2012 and met over the next 3 months to work on this project.  The workgroup consisted of professionals with expertise in falls prevention programs and working with seniors. The various disciplines represented on the workgroup included home care and hospital administration, physical therapy, public health, social work, law, nursing, medicine, optometry, and pharmacy. 
The workgroup did a careful review and examination of the existing literature on effective falls prevention programs and home safety checklists.  The final protocol approved by the workgroup uses a comprehensive approach and includes an assessment of the home environment, medication management, vision screening, and an assessment of gait and balance. The completed protocol and checklist were submitted to the Health and Government Operations Committee of the Maryland General Assembly in November.
Though common, falls are preventable.  The protocol is intended to serve the dual functions of assessing the home and educating individuals about safety.  The new protocol is also intended for use as an awareness and educational tool for community efforts to reduce falls.
For seniors living independently or others who might be at risk of following, the following actions are recommended:
  • Make the home safer.  Remove tripping hazards like books and papers from stairs.  Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to hold them in place.  Install grab bars next to the toilet or shower.
  • Have their health care provider review medicines.  Some medicines or combinations of medicines can make you sleepy or dizzy and cause you to fall.
  • Have vision checked.  Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year.  Poor vision can increase your chance of falling.
  • Begin a regular exercise program.  Exercise improves strength and balance, as well as coordination.
To download a copy of the falls protocol and checklist, click here
Click here to learn more about efforts to prevent falls in Maryland.