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May is Older Americans Month, a time to celebrate and look out for our older neighbors, friends, and loved ones. One significant risk seniors face is falling, which can lead to serious injury, hospitalization and even death. In the U.S., one in three older adults falls each year and there are nearly 300 falls-related deaths per year in New York City. Falls are the leading cause of injury hospitalization among older New Yorkers, but falls are preventable. With the population of older adults expected to increase by nearly half by 2030, it is vitally important to identify and address fall risks. Doing so will protect against cascading health care costs associated with a fall and will preserve quality of life.

In 2017, the Fund for Public Health in New York City (FPHNYC) collaborated with the New York City (NYC) Health Department to secure a grant from the Staten Island Foundation to study fall risks among Staten Island seniors.

Staten Island is an important place to study this problem. Of NYC’s five boroughs, Staten Island has the highest rate of falls-related deaths (33.5 per 100,000 aged 65+ years compared with 27.5 per 100,000 citywide), and Staten Island is the only borough where the falls hospitalization rate for older adults has increased in recent years.

During the year-long study, FPHNYC and the Health Department conducted in-person surveys of 203 Staten Island seniors aged 65 years and older, examining social engagement and support networks, overall health, and possible fall risks related to their home environment.

Among the study’s key findings: falls were most likely to occur at home, and 27% of falls occurred on and around stairs. Nearly half of the survey respondents lived in one- or two-family homes, making the exposure to stairs more likely. Nearly two-thirds of respondents who fell reported they were alone when they fell, while almost three-quarters of respondents reported they did not own a medical alert system.

These findings point to clear prevention messages for Staten Island seniors – messages that DOHMH is delivering to older adults, their formal and informal caregivers and their health care providers. Furthermore, these findings can inform planning for home-based falls prevention interventions. The Health Department is reviewing programmatic approaches to making improvements to homes of older adults when falls risks are identified.

The full report is available here.

To learn more about this important work, please visit the Health Department’s Preventing Falls in Older Adults page or download a falls prevention checklist.

Sparking and facilitating Health Department research projects is one key way that FPHNYC promotes public health across NYC. To learn about how you can support the health of older New Yorkers, please contact Aviva Goldstein at agoldstein@fphnyc.org.