Dr. Jeffrey Passick has become an evangelist for preventing falls and fractures among the elderly.
“I will talk to anyone who will listen to me,” he says.
Dr. Passick, the Director of Orthopedic Surgery at NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island, regularly talks at senior centers in southeast Brooklyn about what seniors can do to prevent falls.
“It’s very important to us,” he says. “Coney Island has one of the oldest catchment areas of any of the Health and Hospital Corporation hospitals and a large proportion of what we do is take care of fractures in the elderly. A fracture in an elderly person can be a life changing event, so it’s better to prevent them than to treat them.”
In his talks, Dr. Passick explains how seniors can guard against falls and he distributes a pamphlet published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on preventing falls. He outlines a four-pronged approach to falls prevention:
Encourage seniors to be physically active so they can maintain good muscle tone
Regular checkups with seniors’ Primary Care doctor, making sure their medicines are current with any physiological changes and are not causing side effects like dizziness
Regular eye exams
Ensuring that seniors’ homes are safe
“Simple things can be done to make homes a safer place to be,” Dr. Passick says. “One common problem is getting out of bed to go to the bathroom. To prevent falling, try to make a safe pathway from the bed to the bathroom. Remove things you can trip over, like throw rugs, and make sure there is adequate lighting in that area. When you get up, put on a slipper or shoe with a back—something you don’t slip out of.”
Dr. Passick says it is also important that everyday items be easily accessible because step stools or stairs can lead to falls. “I have personal experience with that,” he says. “My father went to get a light bulb on a step stool and he fell and broke his hip. Try to avoid stairs or step stools. And put grab bars in the bathroom.”
Part of NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island’s Falls Prevention program includes working with patients who are discharged after treatment for fractures. “We want people to go home to a safe environment,” Dr. Passick says. That often involves having a physical therapist visit a patient’s home to make sure it is as safe as possible.
Dr. Passick’s 10-person staff at NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island (three physicians and seven physician assistants) treat about 200 hip fractures that require surgery and 400 wrist fractures a year that require surgery —the most common fractures.
Hip fractures, in particular, can be life-altering events for the elderly. “There’s a national 20 percent mortality rate for hip fractures by seniors at one year post-injury. That’s a significant number,” Dr. Passick says. “Some of it has to do with age or people who fall who have other medical problems. But half will now need a cane or walker and 20 to 25 percent of seniors who lived independently will have to go into a patient nursing facility.”
Dr. Passick worked in private practice before becoming Coney Island’s Director of Orthopedic Surgery nine years ago. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Rochester in 1976 and his Doctorate from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1984.
More information on falls prevention is available at the CDC website. For the CDC pamphlet on falls prevention, click here.