An overview of falls among older adults

 

Each year, one in every three adults age 65-and-older falls. Falls can lead to moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head traumas, and can even increase the risk of early death. Fortunately, falls are a public health problem that is largely preventable.

How big is the problem?

    • One out of three adults age 65-and-older falls each year.

 

    • Among those age 65-and-older, falls are the leading cause of injury death. They are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma.

 

    • In 2007, more than 18,000 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries.

 

    • The death rates from falls among older men and women have risen sharply over the past decade.

 

    • In 2009, 2.2 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults were treated in emergency departments and more than 581,000 of these patients were hospitalized.

 

    • In 2000, direct medical costs of falls totaled a little more than $19 billion — $179 million for fatal falls and $19 billion for nonfatal fall injuries.

 

What outcomes are linked to falls?

    • Twenty percent to 30% of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures or head traumas. These injuries can make it hard to get around or live independently and increase the risk of early death.

 

    • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries, or TBI. In 2000, TBI accounted for 46% of fatal falls among older adults.

 

    • Most fractures among older adults are caused by falls. The most common are fractures of the spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm and hand.

 

    • Many people who fall, even if they are not injured, develop a fear of falling. This fear may cause them to limit their activities, leading to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness, which in turn increases their actual risk of falling.

 

How to prevent falls in older adults?

Older adults can take several steps to protect their independence and reduce their chances of falling. They can:

    • Exercise regularly. It’s important that the exercises focus on increasing leg strength and improving balance. Tai Chi programs are especially good.

 

    • Ask their doctor or pharmacist to review their medicines — both prescription and over-the-counter — to reduce side effects and interactions that may cause dizziness or drowsiness.

 

    • Have their eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year and update their eyeglasses to maximize their vision.

 

    • Make their homes safer by reducing tripping hazards, adding grab bars and railings, and improving the lighting in their homes.

 

Additional ways to lower hip fracture risk include:

    • Getting adequate calcium and vitamin D in their diet.

 

    • Undertaking a program of weight bearing exercise.

 

    • Getting screened and treated for osteoporosis.

 

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