By Dr. Daman Jamarai, Chief Medical Officer, UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement of California
Amanda Rees, CEO, Age Bold
While we continue to study and gather data about the second-order impacts of COVID-19, it is becoming clear that the pandemic exacerbated risk factors for falls among older adults like physical inactivity. For this reason, it is vital for older adults to know that support is available that can help reduce their risk for falls and improve their quality of life.
Nearly 25 percent of able-bodied older adults in California is classified as physically inactive, putting them at increased risks for falls and disease, according to the 2021 America’s Health Rankings Senior Report. In California, 30.4 percent of adults aged 65 and older reported a fall in the past year, the reported showed.
Falls present a more significant health threat than many realize, and, for older adults, they can take a serious toll on quality of life, independence, and overall wellbeing. While the risk of falls increases for older adults, falls are not a normal part of aging and pose a serious public health concern.
While contributing factors for falls like physical inactivity, obesity, and alcohol abuse were exacerbated by COVID-19, other risk factors include arthritis, poor balance and vision, certain medications, osteoporosis, certain disabilities and general frailty. Older adults with arthritis, a common driver of disability, are more than twice as likely to experience a fall.
Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) show falls are the No. 1 cause of injury and ER visits for adults age 65 and older. One in 4 older adults fall each year, costing more than $50 billion annually. And that cost is projected to increase up to $100 billion by 2030.
As a physician and a leader in healthy aging, we have each seen firsthand the impact of falls on both patients and loved ones. Falls too often lead to a cascade of health challenges and a decrease in quality of life. An older adult who suffers a fall may not be able to enjoy the same activities as before like gardening, sports, or other hobbies.
To help address these challenges, Age Bold and UnitedHealthcare are working together in California to provide fitness programs at no additional cost for eligible UnitedHealthcare Medicare plan members and to raise awareness of risk factors for falls among older adults. Proper exercise can reduce risks for falls among older adults by improving strength and balance.
In addition to exercise, the CDC has helpful resources and tips for reducing risk for falls, including speaking openly with your physician, having your eyes and feet checked, and removing obstacles in the home that could pose a tripping hazard.
COVID-19 caused a shift in consumer demand for flexible, simple, and convenient options to access healthcare and the resources to live a healthier life. It’s more important than ever that we come together to support the older adults in our communities with the resources they need to stay on their feet and maintain the quality of life they deserve.