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Falls Remain Leading Cause of Older Adult Injuries, Expected to Increase

ATLANTA – Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older Americans and are expected to increase in coming decades — which should come as little surprise to emergency clinicians who treat nearly 3 million of the cases annually.

A new study published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report notes that, in 2014, 28.7% of adults 65 years of age and older reported falling at least once in the preceding 12 months, resulting in an estimated 29.0 million falls.

Of those who fell, 37.5% reported at least one fall that required medical treatment or restricted their activity for at least one day, resulting in an estimated 7.0 million fall injuries, according to the study authors from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In fact, about 27,000 older adults died because of falls. Another 2.8 million were treated in EDs for fall-related injuries, and about 800,000 of those patients subsequently were hospitalized, according to study authors.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the 2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, an annual, random-digit–dialed telephone survey of the non-institutionalized U.S. civilian population 18 years of age or older conducted annually in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Results indicate that women, 30.3%, were more likely to report falling than men, 26.5%, and also were more likely to report a fall injury — 12.6% compared with 8.3%. The percentage of older adults who fell increased from 26.7% among persons aged 65–74 years of age, to 29.8% among persons aged 75–84 years of age, to 36.5% among persons 85 years of age and older.

The percentage of older adults who fell was higher among whites (29.6%) and American Indian/Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) (34.2%) than among blacks (23.1%) and Asian/Pacific Islanders (19.8%), according to study authors.

The report also notes that the percentage of older adults who reported a fall ranged from 20.8% in Hawaii to 34.3% in Arkansas, and the percentage of older adults experiencing fall injuries ranged from 7.0% in Hawaii to 12.9% in Missouri.

“Annual Medicare costs for older adult falls have been estimated at $31.3 billion, and the older adult population is expected to increase 55% by 2030,” the researchers write. “Applying the number of falls from this analysis to the projected 2030 population would result in an estimated 48.8 million falls and 11.9 million fall injuries, unless effective interventions are implemented nationwide.”

The CDC is recommending some measures to help prevent falls by older adults, including better screening, medication management, and wider use of vitamin D where appropriate for improved bone, muscle, and nerve health.