While medical advances have allowed adults to live longer, there is still a high number of deaths among older adults from falls. While the elderly are more prone to falling, a recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows an increase that is troubling. In the years between 2007 and 2016, death rates among those over the age of 65 increased by 31%. The study authors suggest that fall risks for patients over 65 be addressed at regular health screenings.
The numbers are more than most people realize. In 2016 there were 29, 668 deaths from falls, but in the first year of the study, 2007, that number was only 18, 344. The death rate rose about 3% each year during the investigation, going from about 47 deaths per 100,000 to 61 deaths per 100,000. The study broke the data out into demographics of age, location, and ethnicity as well. The highest rate of falls by ethnicity was seen in white non-Hispanic residents, with about 68 deaths per 100,000. It also appears that the risk increases as patients age, with the over 85 age group showing the highest increase in falls.
Men die from falls more often than women, but that might be due to the activities that led to the fall. Men are more likely to be engaged in sports or home repair (falls from ladders are common), and men consume alcohol more than women. A high number of falls are attributed to alcohol consumption.
Location matters as well. Fall rates were lowest in Alabama, and highest in Wisconsin and researchers think it might have something to do with weather. In states that have high snowfall and icy conditions, falls are more common. Also, in states that have a higher proportion of whites, there are more falls since that group holds the overall highest rate of deaths from accidental falls.
Another factor is the cause of death, which is often determined by who completes the death certificate. The CDC cited research from 2012 that showed medical examiners reported 14% more deaths from falls than coroners. Taking the data and looking forward indicates that older adults will continue to be at risk for dying as a result of falls and the numbers could reach 59,000 deaths per year by 2030 if the current trend continues. The researchers wrote in their report, "As the US population aged [65 and older] increases, health care providers can address the rising number of deaths from falls in this age group by asking about fall occurrences, assessing gait and balance, reviewing medications, and prescribing interventions such as strength and balance exercises or physical therapy."
Reducing accidental falls also makes good financial sense. Previous research by the CDC shows that medical expenses from non-fatal falls reached $50 billion in 2015 and fatal fall costs were estimated at $754 million. Preventing falls is the focus of the report, and the CDC advises primary care health providers to ask patients about falls, monitor medications and encourage exercise in their patients since physical fitness can shorten recovery times and injury severity.