Sunday, 26 May 2019

A leading cause of death for seniors in York County is mostly preventable – York Daily Record


Janet Fox, an 85-year-old Dallastown resident, talks about the benefits of taking a Matter of Balance class, designed to help seniors prevent falls. Paul Kuehnel, [email protected]

Janet Fox doesn’t remember how she was able to get up when she fell in front of her house a while back.

She had just returned home from a successful visit with a cousin. She was happy for the uneventful drive out and back, but that optimism crashed down when she fell and landed in the gutter.

The 85-year-old from Dallastown said she has bad knees, so she can’t imagine how she could have propped herself up to stand unassisted. 

What she does remember is the embarrassment.

She recalls how she didn’t want her neighbors to see her. Maybe, she thought, that’s how she managed to get up so quickly, motivated to move before anyone saw her.

That embarrassment is what keeps many seniors from telling their children or even their doctor about a fall.

Yet falling and not reporting it to medical professionals can be deadly.

In 2018, falls were the leading cause of death for people age 55 and over among deaths reported to the York County Coroner’s Office, according to the coroner’s annual report.

The deaths of 98 people age 55 and older in the county were attributed to falls, the report states. It’s consistently the biggest cause of deaths for local seniors.

And the numbers are always skewed.

“We do know that fall deaths are underreported across the country,” Coroner Pam Gay said by email. “In our office, we are constantly educating physicians, nurses and others in local health care facilities about the importance of reporting these deaths to our office, but sometimes, they still get missed.”

Gay said her office has to approve cremations, and one reason is so that it can confirm if the death had anything to do with prior trauma.

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“And we catch some of these fall deaths that way,” Gay said. But, she added, many people are buried, and if the doctor, family or funeral home doesn’t note that a fall led to the death, the coroner’s office isn’t typically involved, and those deaths go unreported.

Gay thinks it’s likely that the improved awareness about fall deaths needing to be reported to her office is contributing to the increase in fall deaths year over year.