More than 30,000 adults over the age of 65 die every year in the U.S. from falls, and a new study suggests that the rate of deaths from elderly falls has increased dramatically over the past decade.
Deaths from falls are largely preventable. Yet, the rate of falls among adults older than 65 increased by 31% from 2007 to 2016, according to researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The findings were published May 11, in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Unintentional injuries are the seventh leading cause of death among older adults, and falls account for the largest percentage of those deaths.
Researchers analyzed data for falls and deaths from 2007 to 2016. Data indicated nearly 30,000 people over 65 died from falls in 2016.
Death rates from falls increased by 3% each year. The largest increase in fall death rates per year was among people over 85, which increased 4% per year. In total from 2007 to 2016, the death rate for falls increased 31% among people aged 65 or older.
Emergency room visits for falls reach 3 million each year. One in four people over the age of 65 report falling every year. That rate is only for those who report the falls. Many more people fall and don’t report it to doctors.
The new CDC report indicates that deaths from falls increased in 30 states and the District of Columbia. Rates increased differently among different states, with the largest occurring in Maine at 11% per year. However, Oklahoma and West Virginia also had significant increases at 10.9% and 7.8% per year respectively.
Researchers warn that if fall death rates continue to increase, as was seen over the study period, more than 60,000 elderly adults will die because of falls in 2030 alone.
Many health experts speculate falls may be increasing because older adults are living longer and experiencing more chronic conditions than ever before. To that end, the chance of falling increases with age.
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.
Risk factors include muscle weakness, difficulty walking, poor vision, certain environmental hazards, and using certain medications. Medications used for anxiety, depression, and insomnia can pose a particular risk because they may cause dizziness and confusion.
Researchers recommend doctors talk with older patients about their risk of fall. Often, a patient may be afraid to admit they’ve already fallen because they are afraid it will limit their independence. However, once a person has experienced one fall, their risk of suffering another fall is much greater.
Falls and the risk of falls should be discussed during annual checkups. Then the doctor can assess the risk of fall and help educate patients to help prevent them.
Prevention measures can include staying active or becoming more active, being aware of potential dangers, installing grab bars in bathrooms and tubs, removing throw rugs, ensuring slippers and shoes have nonslip soles, avoiding stairs, and making sure the bathroom and bedroom are on the same floor of the home.