Injury :: Falls Have Become the Leading Cause of Injury for Seniors

Fall-related death rates for men and women 65 years and older increased significantly from 1993 to 2003, according to a report released today in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

In 2003, more than 13,700 older adults died from falls, making them the leading cause of injury deaths among people 65 and older. From 1993 to 2003 fatal falls increased by more than 55 percent – with more men (46.2 percent) dying from falls than women (31.1 percent). The report also indicates that in 2003 almost 1.8 million seniors were treated in emergency departments for nonfatal injuries from falls and more than 460,000 were hospitalized. In 2000, the direct medical costs for falls among older adults were approximately $19 billion.

“Fall death rates have increased faster than fall injury rates. In large part, this is because people are living longer, and many of our seniors now are older and frailer. They need our help to prevent potentially fatal fall injuries,” said Dr. Judy Stevens, an epidemiologist in CDC’s Injury Center and author of the report.

Other highlights in the report are:
From 1993 to 2003, fatal fall rates increased for both sexes and all races, but they remained consistently higher for men.
In contrast to fatal falls, rates for nonfatal fall-related injuries were, on average, 48% higher for women than for men.
The decline in women’s hip fracture injury rates from 2001 to 2004 may be a result of prevention efforts such as osteoporosis screening combined with widespread education about treatments to rebuild bone mass.
As they age, men become more susceptible to hip fractures if they fall. Osteoporosis screening and treatment may also benefit them.
“Injuries from falls and the fear of falling, lead older adults to limit their activities, which can interfere with independent living. But we know that falls are not inevitable. CDC and its partners have simple strategies that can help seniors and caregivers,” said Dr. Ileana Arias, director of CDC’s Injury Center. “Working with the CDC Foundation and MetLife Foundation, we have updated and revised information that we believe can play a critical role in reversing the trend in fall deaths and injuries among our nation’s older adults.”

Two brochures help older adults and their families and caregivers understand fall risks and ways to prevent falls. What YOU Can Do to Prevent Falls explains steps that older adults can take to reduce their risk of falling.

These steps include:
Exercising regularly; exercise programs like Tai Chi that increase strength and improve balance are especially good.
Asking their doctor or pharmacist to review their medicines-both prescription and over-the-counter-to reduce side effects and interactions.
Having their eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year.
Making their homes safer by eliminating fall hazards and improving lighting.

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