Elderly deaths from falls have nearly tripled since 2000, new study reveals
- In 2016, over 25,000 people 75 or older died from a fall in the US
- That’s nearly triple the 8,613 who fatally fell in 2000
- Falls have increased at similar rates among men and women, according to a new study from Dutch researchers and the CDC
- The authors think the alarming increased could be in part due to poor tracking as well as increasing rates of obesity and sedentary lifestyles
Deaths from falls among elderly people have increased by well over two fold in the last 15 years, new research reveals.
In 2016 alone, over 25,000 Americans over 75 died after falls, compared to just 8,613 in 2000.
Falls are the number one cause of fatal injury for older Americans, one of the top reasons for emergency room visits and, even when a fall itself is not fatal, it significantly increases the risk of subsequent death.
This has long been true, but the alarmingly sharp increase found by researchers at Reinier de Graaf Groep in the Netherlands and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t have a clear explanation.
Among men (light blue) and women (gold) alike, the rate of deaths per 100,000 that were caused by falls doubled between 2000 and 2016, a graph from the new study shows
As people age, their eyesight and hearing become less acute, making them less adept at anticipating obstacles and hindering their depth perception.
Plus, with time, muscles atrophy and reflexes slow.
All of this adds up to put elderly people at particular risk of falling down.
Elderly people are more likely to have weaker or more brittle bones that may break in a fall, as well as other conditions – such as heart disease that falls can exacerbate.
The longer an elderly person lies on the ground, the more likely they are to suffer life-threatening internal bleeding or head trauma.
‘Falling is a potentially catastrophic and life-threatening event for older persons,’ wrote Dr Marco Pahor of the Institute on Aging, Department of Aging and Geriatric Research at the University of Florida in an editorial accompanying the new study.
And it happens to about one in three adults once they reach the age of 65 or older.
These falls cost lives and cost the US an estimated $50 billion a year.
Research has suggested that exercise and training can prevent elderly people from falling, but participation in these types of activities and programs is low – as is awareness of fall risk factors, like taking certain medications.
Hospitals are supposed to provide fall prevention training for elderly people hospitalized after a tumble, but Dr Pahor points out that only about a third of fall victims actually seek help.
And whether or not they made it to a hospital for treatment, fall mortality is on the rise for older men and women alike, according to the new study, published in JAMA.
Among men, the rate of mortality increased from 60.7 to 116.4 per 100,000 between 2000 and 2016.
The rate increase among women paralleled that of men, with mortality surging from 46.3 to 105.9 per 100,000 during the same period.
The Dutch and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers aren’t quite sure how to explain such a dramatic rise – suggesting it may partly be a reflection of mis-categorized data.
Dr Pahor, on the other hand, hints that increasing rates of obesity and more sedentary lifestyles may well contribute to the trend toward more fatal falls.
But research remains lacking in these areas, and compliance with regular exercise and activity recommendations is notoriously poor.
‘Thus, future studies should address novel, sustainable behavioral approaches to target risk factors for falls, such as obesity and prolonged sitting time, in addition to pain, fatigue, sleep and depression,’ Dr Pahor writes.