A staggering 30% of Americans aged 65 and older report falling annually, making falls the leading cause of injuries and injury-related deaths for older adults. Falls result in annual medical costs of $50 billion—$29 billion paid by Medicare and $9 billion paid by Medicaid. As the number of older Americans grows, the number of fall injuries and the costs to treat them will soar.
Back in 2016, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Senior Health and Housing Task Force concluded that making homes and communities safer as Americans age, growing awareness around falls, and advancing policies to scale proven prevention strategies should all be national and bipartisan priorities. Because older adult falls are common, costly, and preventable, we saw it as a unifying issue for members of both parties in Congress to address.
We have been working since then to spread a simple message: Most falls occur in and around the home and we should be doing more to prevent them. In February 2019, BPC, a handful of stakeholder organizations, and aging experts submitted a letter to the Senate Special Committee on Aging urging them to focus on falls prevention and explore how the federal government can better target resources and support. In May 2019, BPC submitted comments in response to a Senate Aging Committee request for stakeholders to provide recommendations to reduce older Americans’ risk of falls and fall-related injuries.
Such efforts are beginning to translate into interest from and action by policymakers, as evidenced by a recent focus on falls prevention by the Senate Aging Committee. In October 2019, the Senate Aging Committee held a hearing on falls prevention and released its 2019 annual report, outlining their key findings and recommendations to prevent falls and reduce falls-related injuries.
The committee’s hearing on falls prevention and annual report demonstrate the growing visibility around this issue and constitute a step in the right direction. In particular, the annual report included bipartisan support for priorities BPC has highlighted, including:
- The overarching need to increase awareness for evidence-based falls prevention programs and educate the public;
- The improved dissemination of available resources for home assessments and modifications;
- Increased investment in successful evidence-based programs like the CAPABLE model;
- Extension of the Money Follows the Person program; and
- Efforts to strengthen falls risk screenings and assessments, including greater utilization of CDC’s STEADI resources and improvements to Medicare Annual Wellness Visits.
Policymakers in Washington, D.C., are beginning to see the promise of falls prevention strategies in helping older adults age independently, remain in their homes and communities, and avoid costly medical treatments. Because there is a critical need to scale up prevention efforts, additional efforts in this direction are needed.