Unintentional Falls in Western North Carolina

Why are unintentional falls a key health issue in western North Carolina?

The percentage of seniors aged 65+ in WNC who fell in the past year has risen from 25% in 2012 to 33% in 2015.

(WNCHN – WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey, 2015)

Adults in WNC Aged 65+ with Unintentional Falls, by Year

Source: WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey, 2015

Survey Question:

A fall is when a person unintentionally comes to rest on the ground or another lower level. In the past 12 months, how many times have you fallen? (0-100)

What do the numbers say about unintentional falls?

Western North Carolina (WNC) Data:

Approximately one third (33%) of seniors aged 65+ fell in 2015. The following senior populations were significantly more likely to fall in 2015:

  • Adults aged 85+ (43.3%)
  • Very low income (38.4%) or low income (35.9%)

(WNCHN – WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey, 2015)

By 2030, the population of adults aged 65+ will be an estimated 244,162 or 26.7% of the entire WNC population. It is estimated that by 2038 this number will increase to 265,799 or 27.2% of the entire WNC population.

(NC OSBM, 2019)

State and National Findings:

Each week, there are 1,189 emergency department visits among residents ages 65 and older, 266 hospitalizations, and 17 deaths due to fall injuries in North Carolina. 

(YMCAWNC, 2019)

Lifetime costs associated with fall injuries in 2014 among North Carolina residents ages 65 and older are estimated to be near $1.4 billion dollars.

(YMCAWNC, 2019)

Each year, more than 3 million older adults are treated in emergency departments for injuries related to falls. In the United States, 1 out of every 5 falls causes a serious injury. 

(CDC, 2017)

What did the community say is the story behind the unintentional falls numbers?

Source: WNCHN – Online Key Informant Survey, 2018

The items below are paraphrased themes that emerged from a 2018 regional survey of key informants. These responses do not necessarily:

  • Reflect accurate or scientifically validated information about health determinants, outcomes, and/or strategies for change.
  • Represent an exhaustive list of factors that can help or hurt efforts to address this key regional health issue.

The information in this section should be interpreted and used with care. It should be used only to help local health departments and agencies begin to understand community perceptions about local health issues. Communities are strongly encouraged to collect their own, local-level data to inform local planning and evaluation activities.

What’s Helping?

  • Falls prevention classes for seniors
  • Exercise programs
  • Information regarding safety practices
  • Age appropriate activities
  • Well home checks for seniors

What’s Hurting?

  • Lack of education and engagement
  • Social isolation in older adults

What we are hearing:

“Injury prevention programming through the local senior center and [local non-profit].”

“Thinking more of seniors and how often they fall and break bones. Need to be more aware of how we maintain our facilities so that they are user friendly for our elderly visitors.”

“Willingness of those involved to seek help.”

How is the region prioritizing this issue?

The western North Carolina region includes 17 communities: 16 counties and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI)

In the 2021 CHA cycle, while no communities chose a priority related to falls:

  • Research has found that stroke, chronic kidney disease (CKD), arthritis, depression and diabetes predict both the risk of first time-falls and recurrent falls in older adults. (Paliwal, Slattum, and Ratliff, 2017)
  • Additionally, the odds of a fall injury are greater for those with mental health and substance use conditions among both elderly men and women. (Finkelstein, Malavika, and Chen, 2007)

What is already happening regionally?

The list below represents a sample of what is happening in the region around this key health issue. Visit www.nc211.org for more resources.

  • Regional falls prevention initiative (2017-2020) (NC Center for Health & Wellness, in partnership with Area Agencies on Aging and Mission ACO)
  • Healthy Aging NC Resource Center (NC Center for Health & Wellness)
  • WNC Falls Prevention Coalition
  • Safe Kids Western North Carolina (Mission Children’s Hospital)
  • Falls prevention education (multi-county in person and live videoconference) for healthcare providers (MAHEC)