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Fall-Related Deaths of Older Americans Double in 20 Years

The leading cause of injury death among older Americans is a growing problem.

Older Americans are dying of falls at more than double the rate of 20 years ago, with women, men and all racial groups showing increases, according to a new study. The study, published May 9 as a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association, cannot pinpoint the reasons for the rising death rate.

In 2020, the study found that just over 36,500 Americans age 65 and up died of a fall-related injury—up from roughly 10,100 deaths in 1999. Adjusted for age, those numbers translated into a more than twofold increase in the rate of fall-related deaths among older Americans: from 29 per 100,000 in 1999, to 69 per 100,000 in 2020.

Researcher Alexis Santos-Lozada, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University, analyzed national data on death rates from an online platform run by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which provides limited information based on death certificates. He found that fall-related death rates more than doubled among both women and men. Among racial and ethnic groups, white older adults had the highest death rate from falls, and the biggest increase, reaching 78 deaths per 100,000 in 2020, but were also higher about Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American older adults.

As for where older adults fall, other research shows that many do occur in medical or long-term care facilities, Santos-Lozada noted. But a large, and growing, proportion happen in the home.

Falls exact a huge health toll beyond the deaths they cause. Far more older Americans take a fall every year, she said -- many of whom do not tell their doctor, unless an injury forces them to seek care.

Figures from the CDC estimate one-quarter of older Americans fall each year, with 3 million ending up in the emergency room, and more than 800,000 hospitalized, estimated to generate $50 billion in medical costs per year. The most common injuries are head trauma and broken hips. Each year the CDC estimates at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures and more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling.

The CDC points to medication as a possible culprit for contributing to falls and recommends that older adults ask their doctor or pharmacist to review their medications.

The National Council on Aging has a tool for older adults to check their risk of falls.

Leading aging expert Lisa M. Cini has compiled a list of simple home modifications to prevent falling.

  1. Keep Things Within Reach including a phone, anything on a high shelf or on another floor that you may need.

  2. Get Safe with Smart Flooring. Invest in anti-slip tiles for bathrooms and kitchens and make sure all rugs have anti-slip mats. Shaw Floor's Sole with SensFloor® technology incorporates a safe and discreet sensor in the flooring that alerts caregivers of a fall, and controls lighting to illuminate a space when movement is detected.

  3. Consider Motion Activated Lighting. Install lighting equipped with sensors to come on when movement is detected, especially on stairs and in bathrooms. For example, the WILLED Bed Light is a dimmable motion-activated bed light 5ft LED strip with a motion sensor and power adapter.

  4. Remove Clutter. Clearing clutter from steps and floors helps you avoid slips and trips. Don't leave things lying around on the floor where they can cause a hazard. And avoid trailing wires when using electrical items.

  5. Install Handrails to Keep You Steady. Have a handrail in all high-risk places, like the shower or stairs. Bathroom Grab Bars: The Grabcessories Bath Safety Kit comes with one 2-in-1 Grab Bar Toilet Paper Holder with Grips, one 2-in-1 Grab Bar Towel Bar with Grips and one 16" Decorative Curved Safety Grab Bar with Grips.

  6. Make the Bathroom Safe and Functional: The Assisto bathtub features an easily accessible and ergonomic design that reduces the risk of injury and falls. Brondell's Swash 1400 Electronic Bidet Toilet Seats feature self-sterilizing, stainless-steel nozzles, and a safety seat sensor. Pressalit provides equally convenient height-adjustable sinks with support arms, toilets, and shower systems that are customized to each user's body type and mobility level.

  7. Voice-Controlled Assistance Devices: Play music, make calls, seJt music alarms and timers, ask questions, control smart home devices, and more--instantly with the Amazon Echo Smart Speaker with Alexa.

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