Wisconsin EMS calls for falls up 24% in three years

Wisconsin medics responded to nearly 131,000 falls last year, 23.7% more than in 2019, with most of the falls occurring in private residences, said a report Tuesday by the state Department of Health Services

Wastewater and test positivity numbers show a fall wave of COVID-19 may be approaching. Vaccine makers have updated booster shots and doctors recommend getting one when they become available.

The state in 2021 continued to have the nation’s highest rate of fatal falls in older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reasons for the long-standing mark could include alcohol use, weather, demographics and better reporting of fall deaths, the Wisconsin State Journal found in a 2019 series

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Falls made up 18% of 911-related ambulance runs last year, making them the top injury that emergency medical service agencies responded to, the state report said. The number of falls EMS responds to is increasing by nearly 10,000 a year. After private residences, most falls were in nursing homes and public areas, such as stores, followed by roadways or sidewalks.

“As Wisconsin’s population ages, preventing falls needs to be prioritized to support the health and independence of Wisconsinites statewide, and to reduce the impact of falls on Wisconsin’s EMS and health care systems,” Paula Tran, state health officer, said in a statement.

The state had 1,635 deadly falls among residents 65 and older in 2021, for a rate of 176.5 fatal falls per 100,000 older adults, more than double the national average. That’s down from 2020, when the state had 1,788 deadly falls among older adults, for a rate of 180.2 per 100,000.

Possible factors include icy winters; excessive drinking, including among the elderly; the population being older and whiter than the U.S. average; and officials here potentially reporting falls as a cause of death more than in other states.

Weather isn’t a clear contributor, however, as some states with similar weather have low rates of deadly falls and most falls among older adults occur indoors. The CDC adjusts for the state’s older population in calculating the rates but may not fully adjust for those 85 and older. African Americans have reported fewer falls than whites nationally, and Wisconsin’s proportion of Blacks is half that of the country’s.

Officials say vision problems, medications, poor lighting, loss of balance and strength and improper footwear can lead to falls. To help prevent falls, they recommend installing grab bars in bathrooms, eliminating hazards such as clutter and throw rugs, getting medication checks from pharmacists or physicians and exercising to improve balance and strength.

The Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging, which offers Stepping On classes, has a Falls Free Initiative, with information at fallsfreewi.org.

“The good news is that there are steps people can take to reduce their risk of a fall,” said Kris Krasnowski, executive director of the institute.

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