Falls are Leading Cause of Injury and Death in Older Americans

In 2014 alone, older Americans experienced 29 million falls causing seven million injuries and costing an estimated $31 billion in annual Medicare costs, according to a new report published on September 23, 2016, by the CDC. Every second of every day in the United States an older adult falls, making falls the number one cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older Americans. With more than 10,000 older Americans turning 65 each day, the number of fall-related injuries and deaths is expected to surge, resulting in cost increases unless preventive measures are taken.


The new numbers are being released in conjunction with the 9th Falls Prevention Awareness Day, sponsored by the National Council on Aging (NCOA). The observance addresses the growing public health issue and promotes evidence-based prevention programs and strategies to reduce the more than 27,000 fall deaths in older adults each year. Known effective strategies for reducing the number of older adult falls include a multifactorial clinical approach (e.g., gait and balance assessment, strength and balance exercises, and medication review).


“Older adult falls increasing and, sadly, often herald the end of independence,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Healthcare providers can make fall prevention a routine part of care in their practice, and older adults can take steps to protect themselves.” Women and those in older age groups were at higher risk for falling and being injured in a fall. Reduced muscle strength is a risk factor for falls, and aging and female sex are associated with reduced muscle mass.


To reduce older adult falls, the CDC created the Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries (STEADI) initiative to help healthcare providers make fall prevention routine. STEADI is based on clinical guidelines and provides information and resources for patients, caregivers, and all members of the healthcare team. STEADI includes information on how to screen for falls, online training for providers, and videos on how to conduct functional assessments and informational brochures for providers, patients and caregivers. The CDC is working with healthcare providers to help keep older adults safe from falls. It all starts with three steps that healthcare providers can easily integrate into routine office visits.


At each visit, healthcare providers should ask patients if they have fallen in the past year, feel unsteady, or worry about falling. Although one out of four older Americans falls each year, less than half tell their doctor. Additionally, healthcare providers should review medications and stop, switch, or reduce the dose of medications that could increase the risk of falls; and recommend vitamin D supplements daily for improved bone, muscle, and nerve health. This type of approach has been estimated to be capable of reducing falls by 24%.


“Falls threaten older Americans’ independence and safety and generate enormous economic and personal costs that affect everyone,” said Grant Baldwin, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC’s Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention. “Together, everyone can reduce the risk of falling and prevent fall injuries.”


Reduced muscle strength, increased inactivity, more severe chronic health conditions, and increased use of prescription medications are risk factors for falls among older Americans. Fall injury rates are almost seven times higher for older adults with poor health than for those with excellent health.


Annual Medicare costs for older adult falls have been estimated at $31.3 billion, and the older adult population is expected to increase 55% by 2030. Applying the number of falls from this analysis to the projected 2030 population would result in an estimated 48.8 million falls and 11.9 million fall injuries, unless effective interventions are implemented nationwide.


See the CDC Announcement


See the CDC Report


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