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AARP South Carolina volunteer State President shines light on the issue of senior falls

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AARP South Carolina volunteer State President Emma Myers is seeking to address the very serious issue of senior falls with her project called “This Little Light of Mine.”

Senior falls are the most common trauma seen at Palmetto Health Richland Emergency Room in Columbia and are likely the most common traumas in emergency rooms around the state. In-fact every 11 seconds a senior is treated in an emergency department for a fall. Every 19 minutes one of those adults dies as a result of injuries from a fall. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury for older adults.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Council on Aging, medical costs for senior falls totaled more than $50 billion in 2015 and costs over $35 billion annually. That makes senior falls one of the top 20 most expensive medical conditions. It is estimated that the total costs of falls could raise to more than $67 billion annually by 2020, with nearly 80% of that cost paid by Medicare. We simply can't afford to ignore this problem.

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It's estimated that up to one-quarter of all American seniors 65 and older fall each year totaling about 29 million falls annually. 7 million of those falls result in injury. 800,000 of those fall victims are hospitalized each year with the average cost per fall injury being around $30,000. 95% of broken hips requiring surgical replacement are the result of a fall. These are serious numbers indicating serious costs.

According to Aging.com, “While falls in the general population usually come about due to dangerous work or leisure activities, seniors are at greater risk of falling in their day-to-day activities. Medications, vision impairments, and general weakness can combine with environmental factors to put seniors in danger of seriously injuring themselves in any fall.”

The sheer frequency and costs of the accidents are utterly astounding. The stats don’t fully capture all the real costs of senior falls, as shocking as they may be. Many seniors who have serious falls never really get better. Even if they don’t die from direct injuries from a fall, many become less mobile and less active as a result of fall injuries. That may seriously impact the quality and longevity of their lives. Falls also increase the need and responsibilities for family caregivers, which represent another huge hidden cost of the problem.

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I know I have belabored the point here, but the fact that senior falls are an incredibly serious problem can’t be emphasized enough. And it is talked about far too little. The cost is so great that the CDC developed a program called STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries) to try to help prevent more senior falls. There is a serious need to address the problem, especially because it is so preventable. That’s exactly what Myers intends to do.

In a study originally published in the International Journal of General Medicine, Dr. Yannis Dionyssiotis, a specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, estimated that 30%-50% of all falls are dues to environmental factors such as poor lighting, slippery floors, and clutter. A full 20% of falls are caused by external factors that would cause even healthy and able adults to have a fall. 80% of senior falls happen in the bathroom where there is often poor lighting and slippery floors.

Using this information President Myers developed a program that specifically addresses a major cause of senior falls. Poor lighting. “ This Little Light of Mine,” which Myers has hash tagged as #TLLM uses first-responders and volunteers to replace light bulbs in senior homes with new brighter energy efficient LED light bulbs free of charge. Myers says she wants to concentrate on replacing bulbs in bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens and porches where the new brighter lights can really have an impact on reducing a major environmental risk factor for senior falls.

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The Richland County Sheriff, the Columbia Chief of Police and the Columbia-Richland Fire Chief have committed their deputies and officers to help with installing the lights. Volunteers will accompany the First Responders to give literature about in-home safety, energy tips, etc. Besides reducing senior falls, the program also has the potential to create some modest energy savings for older adults and help create a bond of trust between first responders and the communities they serve.

This Little Light of Mine has the potential to reduce senior falls and reduce a huge cost to the community in general. That is a big deal. Myers is truly letting her light shine through this project, and at AARP South Carolina we are so proud support her efforts. We are so proud to boast of volunteers like her who tirelessly put their talents to use in bettering their communities and the state. We are also so thankful to have these first responders that are genuinely interested in serving their communities in any way they can. Thank you all!  #TLLM #StopSeniorFalls

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