Senior Safety: Lewis County Has Highest Fall Rate Leading to Injury or Death in the State

Groups Work Together to Provide Safety Tips, Awareness for Area Senior Citizens

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Autumn is around the bend, but local health care providers encourage senior citizens to take whatever safety measures they can to prevent a fall.

“As much as possible, you want to avoid falls and fractures and the injuries that can come along with them,” Patty Dolezal, a physical therapist who worked at Providence Centralia Hospital for 35 years before her retirement, said in a presentation at the Twin Cities Senior Center on Tuesday.

“Falls can result in bumps and scrapes with head injuries, wrist fractures, ankle fractures and the much-dreaded hip fractures. If you end up with hip fractures, sometimes that really changes the rest of your life,” she said.

Lewis County in particular has a glaring problem when it comes to ground level falls — defined as falls from a height of one meter or less — that result in serious injury or less.

“The county has the worst fall rate with serious injury or death in the entire state,” said Laura Hanson, of Riverside Fire Authority, citing a recent state Department of Health report created from trauma data sent by hospitals around the state.

“We’re kind of leading in all areas of our elderly falls,” said Centralia Providence Program Coordinator Marty Cozart, referencing the report.

Since the state’s report came out earlier this year showing Lewis County’s fall rates, Providence, Riverside and other community partners have been working together on an “action plan” to prevent ground level falls.

“We’re kind of in the beginning stages of it,” Cozart told The Chronicle on Wednesday. “We really want to help our community members, our elderly in our community. We’re not doing good.”

Of the 510 trauma patients taken to Providence Centralia Hospital in 2021, 170, or 33%, had ground level falls, according to Cozart.

Of those 170 ground level fall patients, 40 died or suffered an injury severe enough to warrant admission to the hospital or transfer to a high-care facility. 

Providence has seen an increase in severe injury or death caused by ground level falls so far this year: Of the 210 trauma patients the hospital saw in the first half of 2022, approximately 100 had ground level falls as their mechanism of injury. Of those, roughly 40% suffered severe injury or death, said Cozart.

The majority of Providence’s ground level fall patients are 65 years old or older, said Providence Southwest spokesperson Chris Thomas.

“The reasons for that are, you know, balance issues, multiple medications, as we get older, vision, that’s the ‘why,’” he said. 

As part of that joint effort to raise awareness around fall risk and fall prevention, Riverside partnered with the Twin Cities Senior Center to provide fall risk assessment and prevention information to the seniors of Lewis County for three days during National Fall Prevention Awareness Week, a health campaign observed on the first days of fall to increase awareness around falls and injury prevention.

Optometrist Dr. Joe Dolezal and Patty Dolezal gave a joint presentation on Tuesday, Donna Feddern of Lewis Mason Thurston Area Assistance on Aging spoke Wednesday and Lewis County Health Officer Joseph Wiley presented Thursday.



“I want you to be healthy, I want you to stay healthy and independent,” Hanson told seniors Tuesday on the reason for presenting fall prevention information.

Steps people can take to prevent a fall, according to local providers and the National Council on Aging, include:

• Talking to a health care provider: Providers can give individualized assessments of a person’s fall risk and put together a plan for mitigating that risk.

  Getting annual vision and hearing checks: “Your eyes and ears are key to keeping you on your feet,” states the National Council on Aging. Joe Dolezal recommends talking to a eyecare provider about different types of glasses and how to position them so the wearer can navigate obstacles safely. “We can solve an awful lot of problems just simply by repositioning (glasses) and dealing with them to get around those issues,” he said during a presentation on Tuesday. 

• Reviewing medications with a doctor: some medications have side effects like lightheadedness that can increase the consumer’s risk of falling.

  Finding a good balance and exercise program: The National Council on Aging recommends finding exercises that focus on building strength and flexibility. Some recommended activities include yoga, Tai Chi and swimming. Even if it’s not an official workout, Patty Dolezal said getting up to move every hour is beneficial for seniors’ health — so long as they’re getting up carefully, using stable surfaces for support and giving their bodies a few seconds to adjust to being upright before moving.

  Keeping the home as safe as possible: providers recommend seniors remove tripping hazards like area rugs, keep areas well lit and install grab bars in key areas like the bathroom and the stairs to reduce fall risk.

  Use a mobility aid if you need it: canes, walkers and wheelchairs are all options that can help seniors with a high fall risk move safely. The biggest problem with these mobility aids, Patty Doelezal said, is that seniors are often hesitant to use them. “If I had $1 for every time somebody says, ‘I'm not using a cane, it makes me look old,’” Doelezal said Tuesday. “My response to that is ‘Embrace being old. You deserve it. Enjoy being old. Be old safely.’”

• Talk to family and friends for support: “Falls are not just a seniors’ issue,” states the National Council on Aging. Friends and family can help seniors work through the following steps and identify actions they can take to reduce the senior’s fall risk.

For more information on fall prevention, visit https://ncoa.org/older-adults/health/prevention/falls-prevention.

Hanson also encouraged seniors Tuesday to contact their local fire departments with any questions on fall risk and prevention.

“They've got a lot of information on resources and we're here to help you. And we want to see you live as long and as healthy as you like,” she said.