Research News

Falls are leading cause of injury deaths among older people, US study finds

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 23 September 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i5190
  1. Michael McCarthy
  1. Seattle

Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among adults aged 65 years and older in the United States, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study has found.1

The study, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, noted that in 2014 around 27 000 US adults in this age group died because of falling and 2.8 million were treated in emergency departments for fall related injuries. Of these, 800 000 were subsequently admitted to hospital, the report said.

Analysis of data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which conducts a national telephone survey of roughly 400 000 US adults each year, found that 29% of older adults reported having fallen at least once in the past 12 months, resulting in an estimated total of 29 million falls a year. Of those who fell, 38% reported that the fall had been serious enough to limit their activities for at least one day or lead them to see a doctor.

The percentage of older adults who reported a fall increased significantly with age: 26.7% among those aged 65-74 years, 29.8% among 75-84 year olds, and 36.5% among those ≥85 years (P<0.01). Women were significantly more likely to report falling than men (30.3% versus 26.5% (P<0.01)) and to report a fall injury (12.6% versus 8.3% (P<0.01)). The proportion of fall related injuries was notably higher among those reporting poor health (480 per 1000) than in those reporting excellent health (69 per 1000).

The researchers called for healthcare providers to discuss falls with older patients, noting that half of older adults who fell did not mention it to their healthcare providers because they feared that it would lead to a loss of independence. The researchers recommended that providers ask older patients if they have fallen or worry about falling, review patients’ drugs and reduce the dosages of drugs that increase the risk of falling, switch patients to a safer drug or discontinue problematic drugs altogether, and consider vitamin D and calcium supplementation to improve bone, muscle, and nerve health.


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