May 15, 2023

Falls make up the greatest number of trauma cases at UW Health

May is Trauma Awareness Month

MADISON, Wis. – Motor vehicle crashes or sports injuries are headline-grabbing types of trauma, but by far the most common type of trauma seen at UW Health comes from a commonplace source: Personal surroundings.

Each year, UW Health treats thousands of patients with injuries related to falls, and most falls occur inside the home and impact people older than 65, said Dr. Ann O’Rourke, medical director of the Level I Trauma Center at UW Health, and associate professor of surgery, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

It is important for everyone to be able to identify common causes of falls in the home and to be aware that certain medications, footwear or changes in vision might impact their ability to stay upright, she said.

“We are focused on reducing falls and fall injuries because they are not inevitable,” O’Rourke said. “We are highlighting the common culprits of falls, as well as activities and exercises that focus on maintaining balance and strength as we age.”

Inside the home, for example, make sure floors are not wet and that they are cleared of clutter, shoes are not piled up near a doorway and rugs and mats are anchored to the floor or held in place and that the corners are not curled up, she said.

It’s also important to keep hallways lit at night with a nightlight, in the event you need to get up to use the bathroom, O’Rourke said.

Falls aren’t the only reason people are cared for at UW Health’s Level I Trauma Center, which was recently reverified for its three-year certification. Motor vehicle crashes make up the second-greatest number of patients with about 540 in 2022, according to O’Rourke.

UW Health can care for the most significant injuries that occur, but also is working daily to prevent injuries, she said.

“We know that buckling up behind the wheel, wearing proper protective equipment when playing sports or wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle or bike prevents injuries and saves lives,” O’Rourke said.

Preparation is also important to prevent falls, and primary care providers are doing more than ever to help with this, according to O’Rourke.

They can help manage medications, make a referral to an occupational therapist who can assess a person’s living space to identify any changes that might need to be made to reduce the potential for falls and can refer people to UW Health services and local programs proven to reduce falls risk and injuries, she said.

“If you are feeling unsteady, talk with your provider and discuss what physical therapy, exercise or other care could help boost your balance and confidence,” O’Rourke said. “Sometimes it can be as simple as adjusting a medication if it is making you dizzy when you stand.”