Far more people end up in the hospital with injuries from falling in Baltimore than in the rest of the state, leading city officials to launch a campaign Monday to curb the rate of falling among the elderly.
Nearly 5,000 older people were hospitalized in Baltimore last year for broken hips, concussions and other injuries suffered after a fall, city officials said. The city's fall hospitalization rate is 55 percent higher than elsewhere in Maryland.
Officials hope to reduce the rate of falls in the city by 20 percent in the next decade with a campaign that will include targeting hot spots in the city where there are a high numbers of falls.
"Falls are a growing public health concern, especially for older adults," said Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen.
Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults, according to the National Council on Aging.
Falls can set back the lives of the elderly, Wen said. Many have trouble recovering and getting back to their old routine — 25 percent of people who fall and break their hip die within a year, Wen said.
In general, the elderly are more prone to falls because they can't move around as well as they once could. Some have vision problems; some use prescription drugs that may make them less stable.
In Baltimore, the prevalence of old multistory, rowhouses with narrow staircases may contribute to the risk of falls, said Carmel Roques, CEO of Keswick Multi-Care, which offers a variety of services for seniors, including day and health services, rehabilitation and long-term care. Poverty also may play a role.
As part of the initiative, the city will work with nonprofit organizations to educate seniors on how to prevent falls. Pamphlets and posters will be placed in retirement communities and other places frequented by seniors. They will also work to help make seniors' homes more fall-proof, making sure there are no loose rugs or uneven floors that seniors can trip on.
"These types of hazards all present dangers to older adults," Wen said.
The announcement was made by Wen, who was joined by people from several other city agencies and nonprofits, at Roland View Towers, which is located in an area with some of the highest number of falls among seniors..
The average cost of a hospitalization due to a fall is $39,000 in Baltimore City.
Keswick already has begun some strategies that appear to work, Roques said. It developed the "Step Up to Stop Falls" program to help educate the community on how to prevent falls. The program is held at its senior centers, but open to the public. It includes seminars on topics from balance-building exercises to ways to make the home safe from falls.
Roques said her mother-in-law tripped over a fuzzy rug and broke her arm and suffered a concussion. She never recovered enough to be able to return to living in her apartment on her own.
"We want to make it so people are allowed to stay at home and live vibrant lives," Roques said.