New research suggests that the number of deaths linked to elderly falls has more than doubled over the last decade, however it is unclear why the increase is occurring.
The figures involving elderly deaths from falls were released as part of a study published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which found that the number of incidents leading to severe injuries and deaths are on the rise.
Researchers from the Netherlands and the U.S. collected death certificate information from the federal government’s National Center for Health Statistics to identify age ranges most vulnerable to unintentional falls, which is the seventh leading cause of death among older adults, and falls account for the largest percentage of those deaths.
Study data indicated the rate of death from falls for people 75 years of age and older in 2000 was 52 per 100,000 people. However, by 2016, the death rate from falls more than doubled to 111 per 100,000 for the same age group.
In 2014, researchers found nearly 30% of adults 65 years and older experienced a fall resulting in fatality or injury, while those over the age of 75 were found to have the highest increase in mortality from falls.
Co-author of the study, Elizabeth Burns, a health scientist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the reason for the drastic increase was unclear, however could likely be linked to several factors, including individuals living longer with chronic pain and medication side effects.
The risk of experiencing a fall is higher among people with certain chronic diseases and health conditions, such as a history of stroke, arthritis, diabetes, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. As a result of these conditions, many experience muscle weakness, difficulty walking and poor vision. Medications used for anxiety, depression, and insomnia can pose a particular risk because they may cause dizziness and confusion.
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) indicates an older adult dies from a fall every 19 minutes, making fall incidents the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
Researchers recommend individuals at risk of falls speak with their doctors to implement fall prevention strategies. Caregivers and children should also initiate these talks, as seniors may be reluctant to out of fear of losing their independence.
The CDC publishes a list of fall prevention recommendations. These recommendations include light exercises focusing on coordination, strengthening and balancing.
Adults are also encouraged to speak with their doctors about the potential side effects of any medications they could be taking that could off-set their balance or leave them vulnerable to a fall event.