Alarming numbers on winter-time falls

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Doctors call it a prevalent problem in Northeast Wisconsin, and the upcoming winter months pose even a greater risk.

walking on icy sidewalk

A fall can have devastating health effects for anyone, but especially the elderly.

That's why doctors are urging everyone to be careful as snow and ice will soon blanket the area.

Prevea trauma surgeon Daniel Severance is just seeing the X-ray of an elderly woman who fractured her leg in a fall.

"This is a patient that will definitely need surgery, and this is going to affect the way she walks going forward," says Severance.

For people over 65, falls are a big problem in this state.

"Falls really occur in Wisconsin any time of the year, and the recent study shows that we're second in the nation for mortality and over double the rate of falls of the average for the U.S. I think around 20-25 patients every day in Brown County are admitted or seen in the ER for fall-related injuries, and that's elderly patients," says Dr. Severance, adding that he isn't sure why that is, but he cites a number of factors as to why people fall.

"As we age our reaction time slows, we're on medications that can make us dizzy, drowsy, impair our senses, alcohol plays a role in falls, and the vast majority of falls occur in the home, not out in public," says Dr. Severance.

If not fatal, a fall can often be life-changing.

"You just may never get back to the ambulation that you were prior to the injury, you may not be able to live independently again, so fall prevention is really what we're after," says Dr. Severance.

That's where Prevea physical therapist Ashley Verbeten says we can help our aging loved ones, by encouraging them to use canes or walkers, and suggesting strength exercises to improve motion and balance.

Verbeten says homes are more dangerous than sidewalks and driveways.

"Now rugs are going on the floor where we're putting our boots when we're coming in and out of the house, so being really careful about any tripping factors that have now gone in, holiday decorations with cords or any of those things, just the home environment," says Verbeten.

According to the CDC, 95 percent of all hip fractures are the result of a fall.

Just last month, HSHS St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay became the first hospital in Wisconsin certified by the Joint Commission in Hip Fracture Care.

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