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Facts about Falls in Older Adults: a Major Public Health Crisis

We all know it's a problem, but how big is it, really?
And how do you know if you or someone you know is at risk?
  • Every 20 minutes in the U.S., an older adult dies from injuries sustained in a fall.
  • Falls are the leading cause of death due to injury among adults 70 and older.
  • Every 13 seconds an older adult is treated in an emergency room for an injury caused by falling.
  • Falling once doubles the chance of falling again.
  • The combination of low vision and low lighting doubles the risk of falling.
For this blog, we've collected statistics from a number of sources to describe the magnitude of the problem of falls in older adults with the goal of encouraging readers, caregivers and healthcare professionals how important it is to be proactive and preventive when you, a parent, grandparent or friend may be at risk of a serious, life changing injury from falling.

Injuries from falls in older adults are a major worldwide public health crisis. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every year an estimated 424,000 fatalities occur worldwide, making falls the second leading cause of unintentional injury after traffic accidents. In the United States each year, more than 25,000 people 65 and older die from injuries sustained from a fall, and the numbers are rising.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 2.5 million people each year are treated for injuries that result from falls.

  • Falls account for 25% of all hospital admissions, approximately 700,000 patients each year. Of those, more than 60 percent are adults 65 and older.
  • 87% of all fractures in the elderly are due to falls, most commonly hip and wrist fractures, spinal injuries and traumatic brain injuries.
  • It may be surprising to know that less than half of adults 65 and older who fall tell their doctors.
  • 40% of adults 65 and older admitted for hospital treatment do not return to independent living; 25% die within one year, most often due to hip fracture.
  • 40% of all nursing home admissions are the result of a fall.
Fall injuries in older adults are among the 20 most expensive medical conditions. The average annual hospital cost for fall injuries is $35,000, of which Medicare pays about 78%. The total annual direct and indirect monetary costs (lost wages, long-term effects on quality of life, loss of independence) for the patient and caregivers (emotional toll of increased responsibilities, travel, disruption of family and work life) are approximately $34 billion and rising.

Falls are not a normal part of aging and there are many ways to reduce the risks.

Don't Wait for the Fall!

Here is a simple test that may indicate whether a loved one is at risk of falling and should be seen right away by a physician.
  • Begin by having her sit in a chair.
  • Then, ask her to stand up without using her arms, walk a few steps and return to a seated position in the chair. She should use her cane, walker or gait device and wear shoes.
  • Observe her walking 10 feet, turning, and returning to her chair. This event should be timed. It has been found that adults without balance problems can perform this test in less than 10 seconds. Adults with mobility difficulty may require more than 30 seconds.
If you observe any shakiness or instability during this activity, schedule a doctor visit for a complete evaluation of your loved one's balance and ability to walk.
(adapted from: BD Diabetes Learning Center and Minnesota Falls Prevention)

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