Falls have long been a major hazard for older adults—accounting for the largest percentage of deaths from unintentional injuries. Each year, about 1 in 4 older adults in the US reports falling, and an estimated 3 million emergency department visits every year are related to falls.
According to the CDC, things are getting worse. Overall, deaths due to falls among older adults increased 31% from 2007- 2016, a rate of 3% per year. The rate increased in every demographic category except among American Indians/Alaska Natives, with the largest increase (4%) among people aged ≥ 85 years. Nationwide, nearly 30,000 older adults died from fall-related causes in 2016.
But falls are not an inevitable part of aging, the CDC reminds. Advanced age is a well-known independent risk factor; other risk factors include reduced activity, chronic conditions (including incontinence), prescription medications (which may act synergistically on the central nervous system), and changes in gait and balance. The CDC says health care providers can address the problem by asking patients about falls, assessing gait and balance, reviewing medications, and prescribing interventions such as strength and balance exercises or physical therapy.
Initiatives such as CDC’s STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries) can help with risk assessment, patient education, and interventions ( https://www.cdc.gov/steadi).