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Age 65 and Up: Fatal Falls Increasing

Falls Are the No. 1 Cause of Accidental Deaths in People Age 65 and Older
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 17, 2006 -- Falls are the top cause of accidental deaths in people age 65 and older, and fatal fall rates are rising, says the CDC.

The CDC reports that 13,700 people age 65 and older died of fall-related injuries in 2003.

For comparison, more than 563,000 people in that age group died of heart disease and more than 388,000 died of cancer in 2003.

Fatal fall rates rose for both men and women between 1993 and 2003, with higher rates for men.

Forty-six per 100,000 men age 65 and older died from falls in 2003. That rate is 45% higher than in 1993.

Among women of the same age, about 31 per 100,000 died from falls in 2003, a 60% increase since 1993.

The figures appear in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Nonfatal Falls

Overall, no major changes were seen in rates for nonfatal fall injuries.

More women than men are hospitalized for hip fractures.

But hip fracture hospitalization rates for women age 65 and older "appear to be declining," while men's hip fracture rate "has not decreased and might be increasing," says the CDC.

Women's hip fracture hospitalization rates might be down due to wider screening and treatment of osteoporosis in women, notes the CDC.

Men typically get osteoporosis and hip fractures later than women. "Screening and osteoporosis treatment might be broadened to include older men," says the CDC.

"Injuries from falls, and the fear of falling, lead older adults to limit their activities, which can interfere with independent living. But we know that falls are not inevitable," says Ileana Arias, PhD, in a CDC news release.

Arias directs the CDC's Injury Center.

Preventing Falls

The CDC's web site includes these tips on fall prevention for older adults:

  • Exercise regularly (get your doctor's approval first).
  • Have your doctor or pharmacist review your medicines, including over-the-counter medicines.
  • Have your vision checked at least once yearly by an eye doctor.
  • Get up slowly from sitting or lying down.
  • Wear shoes inside and outside the house.
  • Avoid going barefoot or wearing slippers.
  • Keep emergency numbers in large print near each phone.
  • Put a phone near the floor in case you fall and can't get up.
  • Think about wearing an alarm device that will bring help in case you fall and can't get up.

Home Safety Tips

The CDC's web site also includes tips for older adults on making homes safer to help prevent falls:

  • Improve the lighting.
  • Hang lightweight curtains or shades to reduce glare.
  • Remove throw rugs or use them with a nonslip backing.
  • Keep objects like papers, books, and towels off the floor.
  • Coil or tape cords and wires next to the wall so you can't trip over them.
  • Fix loose or uneven steps.
  • Put overhead lights at the top and bottom of steps.
  • Make sure carpet on steps is firmly attached to every step.
  • Put nonslip rubber treads on uncarpeted stairs.
  • Fix loose handrails.
  • Paint a contrasting color on the top edge of all steps so you can see the stairs better. For instance, use a light-colored paint on dark wood.

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