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Senior Health

Falls and the Elderly

Statistics on Falling and the Elderly

Falling and its resulting injuries are an important public health problem for older adults. The National Safety Council estimates that persons over the age of 65 have the highest mortality rate (death rate) from injuries. Among older adults, injuries cause more deaths than either pneumonia or diabetes. Falls account for about one-half of the deaths due to injury in the elderly.

Several epidemiological studies have looked at the rate of falls in the elderly at home, in outpatient settings and institutions.

Complications of Falls

The complications of falls are numerous and significant.

Older persons are likely to fall for several reasons. The environment can be particularly dangerous as one gets older. Steps, throw rugs and poor lighting can all lead to increased falling when combined with physical instability.

Physical instability has many causes in the elderly
  • Osteoarthritis, muscle wasting and slowed reflexes are very common
  • Poor vision from cataracts or macular degeneration
  • Postural hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure) also contributes to unsteadiness.

Finding the Cause

A person who has fallen will be asked to give the care provider:

Prevention

To prevent falls you have to find the underlying cause and treat it. Therapists, nurses and the family can help the elderly person who has fallen regain or maintain his or her mobility. They can also help lessen the risk of falls by creating a safer living environment and improving awareness of environmental dangers. For example:

Many elderly people have repeated falls without harm. The importance of falls as a cause and as a consequence of ill health in the elderly is now recognized. Although little is known about the increased risk of falls with age, studies are being done to improve the care available to older adults at risk for falls and injury.

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Last Reviewed: Apr 10, 2006

Gregg   Warshaw, MD Gregg Warshaw, MD
Director, Office of Geriatric Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati