The McLean County coroner said a nationwide increase in fatal falls isn’t just a sign of old age, it’s a call to take better care of our elders.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 49 fatal falls in McLean County in 2017. That’s more than the county’s number of opioid overdose deaths.
Coroner Kathy Yoder said her job isn’t just determining the cause of death. She said it’s also combing through death data and seeing what can be done to reduce accidental deaths.
“When you look at the statistics of how can we save lives, what can we learn from deaths in order to prevent them?” she said. “Accidental deaths are preventable.”
The average age of fatal falls is between 80 and 84, according to Yoder.
She said it’s our responsibility to watch over elderly people in our lives, lending a hand as they walk and making sure they use their walker when it's needed.
“Because they don’t have the agility, maybe because of arthritis or their muscles are atrophied as we get older,” Yoder said. “So hold on to them. Be cognizant of it.”
McLean County’s 49 fatal fall deaths outrank a number Central Illinois counties by at least 30. But Yoder said that is not to cause alarm.
For one, McLean County has two hospitals. But perhaps a more telling statistic is that Yoder is the only coroner south of Interstate 80 with not only a medical degree, but a doctorate of nursing practice.
Coroners are not bound by law to have any medical experience; medical examiners do, but Illinois follows the coroner system.
“How are (other coroners) looking at the data,” Yoder asked. “Are the coroners in other counties who are not medical realizing that these are accidental deaths? Do they understand the health process of what happens after a fall?”
A fatal fall doesn’t always mean instant death, Yoder explained. Sometimes, it can take days or weeks for the body to succumb to the fall injury.
“I’m not sure if (other coroners) are looking at that or not looking at that. But my forensic pathologist and I have a great dialogue and we both understand what happens to the human body after a fall and an injury,” she said. “I’m not sure if (other coroners) understand, but I would hate to speak for them.”
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