Advocates raise concerns about elderly falls

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Advocates for the elderly say fatal falls among Wisconsin's aged remain high because of a growing population, lifestyle hazards and better reporting.

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"At first I'm kind of surprise, because I feel like we have a lot of resources and we do a lot to prevent those falls," said Maureen Mommaerts, physical therapist with the Prevea Therapy Institute.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says 1,393 residents age 65 and older accidentally fell to their deaths in 2017.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports show Wisconsin routinely ranks highest in the country for elderly fatal falls. In 2016, it reported more than 142 elderly fall deaths per 100,000 people in the population -- well ahead of Vermont's second-place 120 deaths per capita and third-place Minnesota's 119. In 2007, Wisconsin's rate was closer to 90 deaths per capita.

"There are so many people out there that basically just kind of think, 'Well, I'm not going to fall down, so why bother paying for it, paying for the service?'" said Steve Schroeder, owner of Visiting Angels in Green Bay.

Visiting Angels provides in-home care services to local elderly individuals. Schroeder says caregivers monitor many of their clients as part of fall prevention.

"Shoes, rugs are a big one, because a lot of time people don't pay attention, and even though it's a small thing in the hallway, they're going to fall," he said.

Mommaerts believes winter weather largely contributes to the high numbers in Wisconsin.

"It definitely is going out when conditions are bad, when maybe they should reschedule appointments," she said. "Risky behavior, trying to clean off their own driveways or going up on their roofs for getting snow off."

Wisconsin Public Radio reports that state health officials estimate the number of residents 65 and older will increase between 2010 and 2040 from 14% to 24%.

The Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging's executive director, Betsy Abramson, says many also blame Wisconsin's high rates of obesity and alcohol consumption.

The group and others are working to prevent falls through home modifications, medication reviews, vision screening and a balancing program.

Copyright 2019 WBAY. The Associated Press contributed to this report.