CDC: Among U.S. seniors, fall-related deaths have doubled

55% of all injury-related senior deaths come from falls, report says

The number of American seniors who die from injuries after a fall double over a 13-year period, according to a new CDC report.

More than 30% of Americans over age 65 fall each year, CDC says, and EDs respond to nearly 2.5 million fall-related injuries annually. (That's one fall injury every 13 seconds.)

In 2013, the age-adjusted fall injury death rate among seniors ages 65 and over was 56.7 per 100,000, compared with just 30 per 100,000 in 2000. In addition, the report noted that 55% of unintentional injury fatalities involving seniors were attributed to falls in 2012 and 2013.

Researchers teach seniors to avoid falls—by tripping them

Lauren Gleason, a geriatrics medicine fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says, "Senior falls are a signal event," and it is important to recognize that deaths from falling "are not usually just about the fall." Rather, "they're often part of a larger geriatric syndrome, which means the fall itself may represent other things that have long been going on," she explains.

Gleason says some larger issues that could lead to a fall include:

  • Poor nutrition;
  • Balance problems;
  • Uncontrolled diabetes that results in foot numbness;
  • Poor coordination; and
  • Impaired thinking.

Nancy Gell, an assistant professor in the department of rehabilitation and movement science at the University of Vermont, says an important takeaway from the study is the need for more preventive efforts. She says, "[This] may include an individual fall-risk assessment, home environment assessment, and participation in fall-prevention exercise, such as balance and strengthening exercise."

More data from the report

The CDC report also identified other causes of unintentional injury deaths among seniors, which were the third leading cause of death among seniors in 2013.  For instance, CDC found that:

  • 14% of such deaths can be attributed to car accidents ;
  • 8% are due to suffocation;
  • 4% are from accidental poisoning; and
  • 2% are the result of a fire.

The risk of unintentional injury death increases as seniors age. For example, a senior age 85 and older is eight times more likely to die from suffocation and twice as likely to die in a car crash as seniors between ages 65 and 74.

Suicide and homicide were the two most common causes of intentional injury, responsible for 13% of deaths and 2% of deaths, respectively (Mozes, HealthDay, 5/7; Brooks, Medscape Medical News, 5/7).

The takeaway: A new report from CDC finds that 55% of injury-related senior deaths come from falls, while 85% of injury-related senior deaths are the result of an accident. Experts say providers should focus on preventing falls by properly outfitting homes and equipping seniors with tools to improve their balance and strength.

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