Elderly Fall Injuries Remain a Leading Cause of Death in U.S.: CDC

An elderly individual over the age of 65 falls every second of every day in the United States, causing millions of injuries annually and becoming the leading cause of death among older Americans, a new report warns. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on September 22 that falls have become the number one cause of death among older Americans, resulting in an estimated $3 billion in annual Medicare costs and several million injuries per year.

“Older adult falls are increasing and, sadly, often herald the end of independence,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in the press release. “Healthcare providers can make fall prevention a routine part of care in their practice, and older adults can take steps to protect themselves.”

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With more than 10,000 Americans from the baby-boomer generation turning 65 years old each day, falls have become more prevalent among the elderly, the CDC’s findings indicate. In 2014 alone, older Americans suffered from 29 million fall events, resulting in at least 7 million fall injuries that either required immediate medical treatment, or restricted the person’s mobility for a day or more, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The CDC’s report published in the MMWR was released in conjunction with the 9th Falls Prevention Awareness Day, which is a campaign sponsored by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) aimed to educate the public of growing health issues and promote evidence based prevention programs and strategies to reduce elderly fall injuries and deaths.

Independent of the recent CDC study, the NCOA has published statistics finding that over one third of elderly Americans over the age of 65 fall each year at alarming rates. The organization’s data indicates that over the last several years an elderly adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall every 11 seconds, and falls resulting in fatalities occur every 19 minutes.

Despite prevention efforts by the CDC, which initiated the Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries (STEADI) program in 2015 to help healthcare providers make fall prevention routine, millions of fall events still continue to occur at health care facilities and especially nursing homes, with many going unreported.

Residents in nursing homes are typically at an increased risk of falling due to disabling condition, weakness in health, or because they are disoriented. Given their frail medical condition or dosage of sleep medications, a nursing home fall resulting in a fracture or injury can have a significant impact on a resident’s functional ability and recovery. Elderly falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries and hip fractures, according to the CDC.

Healthcare facility and nursing home falls are a preventable occurrence through the use of proper fall risk evaluations and supervision by nursing staff while patients remain in their care. However, many protocols such as bedside alarms, bed rails, and padded flooring are not enough to prevent the falls from occurring and often lead to a false sense of security.

With fall injury rates at almost seven times higher for older adults with poor health than those with excellent health, the CDC is advising caregivers to take into consideration the health of their elderly friends or family members and take simple steps to prevent falls from occurring. Health officials advise the elderly to talk with their healthcare provider about fall prevention strategies.

Elderly patients who believe they are at a fall risk due to disorientation or weakness from medication use should consult with their pharmacist about which medications could make them more likely to fall.


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