Study Warns That Lethal Falls Among the Elderly Are on the Rise

According to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), deaths from falls tripled among the elderly between 2000 and 2016. This age group, defined as adults older than 75, has risk factors that also include medication use, poor balance, and chronic conditions such as diabetes and depression. The study’s authors say fall prevention strategies are “typically recommended” for all adults over 65.

A recent article in HealthDay includes comments from one of the researchers who says these falls are connected to an estimated $50 billion in medical care annually (based on data from 2015). Robin Lee, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s Injury Center, tells the publication, “As the United States population continues to age, we can expect more deaths from falls. We can also expect more hospitalizations and nursing home admissions as a result of falls.” However, as Lee also shares with HealthDay, many falls are preventable. “Caregivers can encourage their loved ones to speak to their doctor about their fall risk,” says Lee.

Dr. Marco Pahor, director of the Institute of Aging at the University of Florida in Gainesville, provided editorial commentary that accompanied the JAMA study. As reported by HealthDay, he says that “age is only one factor that increases seniors’ fall risk. Other factors include a sedentary lifestyle, chronic diseases, neurologic issues and incontinence, as well as higher use of prescription drugs. All can cause problems with gait and balance that can result in potentially catastrophic and life-threatening falls.” To reduce these risks, he recommends “weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, balance training and resistance exercises to strengthen muscles.” He also suggests that “preventing and treating osteoporosis is important.”

Physicians and other healthcare providers should consider patient risk factors for falls in their assessment and plan when caring for older adults.  A comprehensive approach to managing the needs of an aging population enhances quality of life and aids in preventing the potentially serious complications that may accompany falls.

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