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Falls among older adults: An overview

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Exercise regularly. It's important that the exercises focus on increasing leg strength and improving balance. (© Comstock Images / Getty Images) Exercise regularly. It's important that the exercises focus on increasing leg strength and improving balance. (© Comstock Images / Getty Images)

Source: Centers for Disease Control

Each year, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls. Falls can lead to moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head traumas, and can even increase the risk of early death. Fortunately, falls are a public health problem that is largely preventable.

How big is the problem?

  • One out of three adults age 65 and older falls each year.
  • Among those age 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of injury death. They are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma.
  • In 2007, over 18,000 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries.
  • The death rates from falls among older men and women have risen sharply over the past decade.
  • In 2009, 2.2 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults were treated in emergency departments and more than 581,000 of these patients were hospitalized.
  • In 2000, direct medical costs of falls totaled a little over $19 billion—$179 million for fatal falls and $19 billion for nonfatal fall injuries.

What outcomes are linked to falls?

  • Twenty percent to 30% of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures, or head traumas. These injuries can make it hard to get around or live independently, and increase the risk of early death.
  • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries, or TBI. In 2000, TBI accounted for 46% of fatal falls among older adults.
  • Most fractures among older adults are caused by falls. The most common are fractures of the spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm, and hand.
  • Many people who fall, even if they are not injured, develop a fear of falling. This fear may cause them to limit their activities, leading to reduced mobility and loss of physical fitness, which in turn increases their actual risk of falling.       

Who is at risk?

Fatal falls

  • In 2007, 81% of fall deaths were among people 65 and older.
  • Men are more likely to die from a fall. After adjusting for age, the fall fatality rate in 2007 was 46% higher for men than for women.
  • Older whites are 2.5 times more likely to die from falls as their black counterparts.
  • Older non–Hispanics have higher fatal fall rates than Hispanics.

Nonfatal falls

  • The chances of falling and of being seriously injured in a fall increase with age. In 2009, the rate of fall injuries for adults 85 and older was almost four times that for adults 65 to 74.
  • People age 75 and older who fall are four to five times more likely than those age 65 to 74 to be admitted to a long-term care facility for a year or longer.
  • Women are more likely than men to be injured in a fall. In 2008, women were 46% more likely than men to suffer a nonfatal fall injury.
  • Rates of fall-related fractures among older women are more than twice those for men.
  • Falls may lead to hip fractures. In 2006, the hip fracture rate for older women was almost twice the rate for men.
  • White women have significantly higher hip fracture rates than black women.

How can older adults prevent falls?

Older adults can take several steps to protect their independence and reduce their chances of falling. They can:

  • Exercise regularly. It's important that the exercises focus on increasing leg strength and improving balance. Tai Chi programs are especially good.
  • Ask their doctor or pharmacist to review their medicines—both prescription and over-the counter—to reduce side effects and interactions that may cause dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Have their eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year and update their eyeglasses to maximize their vision.
  • Make their homes safer by reducing tripping hazards, adding grab bars and railings, and improving the lighting in their homes.

Additional ways to lower hip fracture risk include:

  • Getting adequate calcium and vitamin D in your diet.
  • Undertaking a program of weight bearing exercise.
  • Getting screened and treated for osteoporosis.

What is CDC doing to prevent falls among older adults?

CDC supports research and dissemination on ways to help prevent falls among older adults. To read about these activities, see CDC's Fall Prevention Activities.

CDC also has developed brochures and posters, in partnership with the CDC Foundation and MetLife Foundation, to educate older adults and those who care for them about preventing falls and the injuries that result.

*DISCLAIMER*: The information contained in or provided through this site section is intended for general consumer understanding and education only and is not intended to be and is not a substitute for professional advice. Use of this site section and any information contained on or provided through this site section is at your own risk and any information contained on or provided through this site section is provided on an "as is" basis without any representations or warranties.
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