Falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults in New York state

One in four upstate New York adults older than age 65 fell at least once in the last year, according to research by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. Forty percent, or two in five of those who fell experienced an injury.


Survey Data Identifies Empathy Gap 
on Mental Health Issues
Using self-reported survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield found that 46 percent of upstate New York adults who have a depressive disorder feel that people are generally caring and sympathetic to individuals with mental illness. About 64 percent of upstate New York adults who have never been diagnosed with a depressive disorder believe that people are generally caring, and sympathetic to people with mental illness. 
“There’s an empathy gap when it comes to mental illness,” said Ann Griepp, M.D., Excellus BlueCross BlueShield medical director for behavioral health management. “Our analysis of public survey data shines a light on the need for society to bridge that gap.” 
The National Alliance on Mental Illness, (NAMI) defines mental illness as a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, or mood, and may affect an individual’s ability to function, and relate to others.    
“One in five U.S. adults experiences a mental health condition over the course of a year; making mental illness more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease,” said Griepp. “The myths and the stigma that surround mental illness can result in feelings of shame, and isolation that can cause affected persons to deny symptoms, delay treatment, and refrain from taking part in daily life.” 
The CDC data show that four out of five upstate New York adults agree that treatment can help people with mental illness. Mental Health America, a nonprofit that addresses the needs of those living with mental illness, promotes individual or group treatment for many who are diagnosed with mental illness. A variety of treatment options is available.
According to NAMI, less than half of U.S. adults who had a mental health condition received treatment last year. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s review of the CDC data found that in upstate New York, 15 percent of adults are currently taking medication or receiving treatment for mental illness. 
“People who suffer from a mental condition are less likely to seek and adhere to treatment for their illness,” noted Griepp, “and are also less likely to adhere to treatment for such other chronic health conditions as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory conditions, arthritis and asthma. This puts them at risk for health complications and a lower quality of life.” 
Medication reminders, such as pillboxes with alarms, and smartphone notification apps, can help remind people of their need to take their medications as directed.
“In addition to encouraging people who have a mental illness to get treatment, we can help bridge the empathy gap by reframing how we think about mental illness,” said Griepp. “We can do that by seeing the person, and not the illness, and offering him or her support by saying, ‘We will get through this together,’ or ‘I’m here for you.’”
Griepp recommends initiating open, and honest conversations about mental illness to help close the empathy gap that exists between those who have a mental illness and those who don’t. “That includes starting conversations between patients and doctors, and among family members and loved ones,” she said.  
The World Health Organization, and the World Economic Forum report that mental illness represents the biggest economic burden of any health issue in the world. They project that by the year 2030, mental illness will result in $6 trillion in associated health care costs (two-thirds of which are attributed to disability and loss of work) worldwide. 
View Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s analysis of CDC survey data online at 
Download a free infographic poster, “Empathy and Mental Illness: Bridging the Gap,” at 
For an animated version of the infographic:


One in four upstate New York adults older than age 65 fell at least once in the last year, according to research by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. Forty percent, or two in five of those who fell experienced an injury.

Using two years of self-reported survey data from government health agencies, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield found that falls are common among upstate New York adults ages 65 and older. The risk for falling and the severity of an injury increase with age.

Of upstate New Yorkers age 65 to 69:

  • 24 percent fell in the last 12 months
  • 32 percent were injured from a fall

Of upstate New Yorkers age 80+:

  • 31 percent fell in the last 12 months
  • 44 percent were injured from a fall

“One finding of concern − but we frankly have no explanation for it − is the regional variation in the rate of falls per 1,000 population ages 65 and older,” said Richard Lockwood, M.D., vice president and chief medical officer of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Central New York region. The data show that adults ages 65 and older in the Utica-Rome-North Country region reported falls at more than twice the rate of adults 65+ in the Finger Lakes region, where the rate of reported falls was lower than state and upstate New York averages.

 “Falling is not an accepted part of the aging process in any region,” said Lockwood.  “There are simple things that everyone can do right now for themselves and their loved ones to help reduce the incidence of falls and promote independent and active lifestyles.”  

Lower body weakness and difficulty with balance are risk factors for falling. Lockwood advises staying active and maintaining a fitness routine. Simple activities, such as exercising in a chair or stretching in bed, can greatly improve strength and balance. Finding a fitness partner can add the motivation to go for walks, take a dip in a local pool or even learn tai chi.

Certain medications can affect balance. People also are more likely to fall if they have vision problems or inadequate nutrition. According to Lockwood, proper vision care (including up-to-date eyeglass prescriptions), proper nutrition and a thorough medication review can help cut down on falls.

Nationally, one in five falls causes serious harm, such as a broken bone or a head injury.

Among older New York state residents who are hospitalized because of a fall, 60 percent go to a nursing home or rehab facility, 27 percent experience a hip fracture, and 11 percent suffer a traumatic brain injury. 

The estimated annual impact that falls have on health care spending in upstate New York is substantial, according to a report issued by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in 2012. That report shows $30.6 million in emergency room costs and $321.0 million in hospital costs directly related to falls. 

Home hazards contribute to the incidence of falls.

“We all take great care to childproof our homes when there are toddlers running about,” said Lockwood. “We need to give the same attention to eliminating tripping hazards for older adults, or anyone who has difficulty with walking or balance.”  

The most common tripping hazards include:

· Throw rugs that bunch or slide.

· Clutter.

· Steps that are uneven, too steep or too long, and that have inadequate railings.

· Lighting that’s either too dim, or so bright that it causes glare.

· Pets that follow too closely or lie in prime walking areas.

· Unstable chairs or tables that can’t support a person’s weight.

· Extension cords across walkways.

· Bathrooms that lack grab bars, or that have low toilet seats.

· Sloping yards and driveways.

· Cracks in sidewalks, or uneven transitions between bare floors and carpeted rooms. 

“We can and should encourage people to stay active as they age, keep their doctors informed about any issues with balance or vision, and eliminate easy tripping hazards around the house and yard to reduce fall-related injuries, emergency room visits and hospital stays,” said Lockwood.

For more information on fall prevention, a downloadable Excellus BlueCross BlueShield infographic is online at

View Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s findings in more detail, online at