Older Adults Are Falling and Dying Twice As Often Than 20 Years Ago: Study

The use of powerful medications and failures to prevent nursing home falls may be contributing to the rising number of elderly fall-related deaths

A new study warns that older adults are dying of fall-related injuries more than twice as often as they did 20 years ago, with increased fall rates seen among both men and women, and all racial groups.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University indicate that 36,500 Americans aged 65 and older died of a fall related injury in 2020, which represents an increase from nearly 10,100 fall related deaths in 1999. Their findings were published on May 9 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

In recent years, several studies have highlighted steadily increasing death rates from elderly falls. There have also been growing concerns about the impact that certain medication side effects and patterns of nursing home negligence may be having on contributing to the rates of number of falls.

To conduct the study, researchers examined national death rate data from an online platform operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which included information about the cause of death from death certificates.

According to the data, fall-related death rates doubled for both women and men over the last two decades. White older adults saw the most substantial increase in fatal falls, at 78 fall related deaths per 100,000 in 2020. However, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American seniors also saw surges in fatal fall injuries.

Adjusted for age, the data suggests that more than twice as many older Americans are experiencing life-threatening injuries from fall. In 1999, 29 out of 100,000 older Americans died from fall injuries, compared to 69 out of 100,000 in 2020.

“For every group, it’s going in the same direction,” said head researcher Alexis Santos-Lozada in an interview regarding the study. “That’s concerning.”

Medication Side Effects and Nursing Home Negligence Could Be Putting Seniors at Risk

While the study does not identify a specific cause for the surge in fall-related deaths for older adults, health experts have issued separate warnings in recent years that may suggest contributing factors.

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Generally, seniors are living longer and surviving serious medical conditions like heart attacks, strokes, and Parkinson’s disease. However, managing these chronic health issues requires increasing amounts of prescription medication, some of which has been flagged as causing dangerous side effects that can cause a fall.

In 2018, a CNN report found that a popular Parkinson’s disease drug called Nuplazid caused hundreds of deaths linked to dangerous side effects. The deadly Nuplazid problems associated with side effects included an increased fall risk due to insomnia, nausea, and fatigue from the drug.

Several antipsychotics and cholinesterase inhibitors have also been flagged for increasing the fall risk among older adults in 2021. A report identified prescription inhibitors like Exelon, Razadyne, and Aricepts as especially dangerous when taken together with antipsychotics due to side effects like fatigue and confusion that can lead to a fall.

Additionally, in April, a coalition of state attorneys expressed concerns about chronic understaffing and high mortality rates in privately owned nursing homes, warning that those facilities often have numerous instances of senior abuse and neglect that can increase the risk of a fatal nursing home fall injury.


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