MADISON — Fatal falls among Wisconsin's aged remain high because of a growing population, lifestyle hazards and better reporting, according to advocates for the elderly.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services recently released data showing 1,393 residents age 65 and older accidentally fell to their deaths in 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports show Wisconsin routinely ranks highest in the country for elderly fatal falls.
The findings come as state health officials estimate the number of residents 65 and older will increase between 2010 and 2040 from 14% to 24%, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
"Some folks point to higher rates of obesity which makes you more unsteady as well as the higher rates of alcohol imbibing here in Wisconsin," said Betsy Abramson, the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging's executive director.
The group and others are working to prevent falls through home modifications, medication reviews, vision screening and a program called Stepping On.
Stepping On meets with elderly residents in group settings to introduce strength and balancing exercises, while teaching of home hazards, safe footwear, safety in public places and coping after a fall. Abramson said the program can reduce falls by 31%.
Gov. Tony Evers' budget proposal set aside $500,000 for state grants over two years intended for healthy aging programs, including Stepping On and others focused on falling prevention. But the Legislature's budget-writing Joint Finance Committee dropped the funding from their budget this month.
Republicans, who control both the committee and the state Legislature, have nearly finished reshaping the state budget to reflect their priorities, removing much of Evers' proposals. The committee could send the budget to the full Legislature as early as this week.
"We are extremely disappointed," Abramson said. "Investments in prevention are super important, especially for falls prevention when (the state) has a rapidly aging population."