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Preventing Falls in the Elderly

by K.R. Tremblay Jr., and C.E. Barber1 (12/05)

Quick Facts...

  • The risk of falling increases with age and is greater for women than for men.

  • Two-thirds of those who experience a fall will fall again within six months.

  • A decrease in bone density contributes to falls and resultant injuries.

  • Failure to exercise regularly results in poor muscle tone, decreased strength, and loss of bone mass and flexibility.

  • At least one-third of all falls in the elderly involve environmental hazards in the home.

Causes and Prevention

The causes of falls are known as risk factors. Although no single risk factor causes all falls, the greater the number of risk factors to which an individual is exposed, the greater the probability of a fall and the more likely the results of the fall will threaten the person's independence.

Many of these risk factors are preventable. As obvious as it may sound, a lack of knowledge about risk factors and how to prevent them contributes to many falls. Some people believe that falls are a normal part of aging, and as such are not preventable. Lack of knowledge leads to lack of preventive action, resulting in falls.

Statistics

  • The risk of falling increases with age and is greater for women than men.

  • Annually, falls are reported by one-third of all people 65 and older.

  • Two-thirds of those who fall will fall again within six months.

  • Falls are the leading cause of death from injury among people 65 or over.

  • Approximately 9,500 deaths in older Americans are associated with falls each year. The elderly account for seventy-five percent of deaths from falls.

  • More than half of all fatal falls involve people 75 or over, only 4 percent of the total population.

  • Among people 65 to 69, one out of every 200 falls results in a hip fracture, and among those 85 or over, one fall in 10 results in a hip fracture.

  • One-fourth of those who fracture a hip die within six months of the injury.

  • The most profound effect of falling is the loss of independent functioning. Twenty-five percent of those who fracture a hip require life-long nursing care. About 50 percent of the elderly who sustain a fall-related injury will be discharged to a nursing home rather than return home.

  • Most falls do not result in serious injury. However, there is often a psychological impact. Approximately 25 percent of community-dwelling people 75 or over unnecessarily restrict their activities because of fear of falling.

  • The majority of the lifetime cost of injury for people 65 or over can be attributed to falls.

Web Sites

References

Aid Association for Lutherans. (1998). Home sweet home: How to help older adults live independently. Appleton, WI: Aid Association for Lutherans.

American Association for Retired Persons. (1998). Home safe home: How to prevent falls in the home. Washington, DC: American Association for Retired Persons.

Covington, G.A., & Hannah, B. (1997). Access by design. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Fuller, G. (2000). Falls in the elderly. American Family Physician, 61, 2159-2168.

Leibrock, C. (2000). Design details for health. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

National Institute on Aging. (1992). Preventing falls and fractures. Washington, DC: National Institute on Aging.

Sadovsky, R. (Ed.). (1999). Conditions of aging. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins.

Steinweg, K. (1997). The changing approach to falls in the elderly. American Family Physician, 56, 1815-1822.

Steinweg, K. (1997). Decreasing your risks of falls. American Family Physician, 56, 1823.

Studenski, S., & Rigler, S. (1996). Clinical overview of instability in the elderly. Clinical Geriatrics Medicine, 12, 679-688.

Tideiksaar, R (1997). Falling in old age: Prevention and management. New York: Springer.

Tremblay, K., & Kreul-Froseth, S. (2003). Safe housing for the elderly. Fort Collins: Colorado State University Extension.

U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. (1998). Home safety checklist for older consumers. Washington, DC: U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

1 K.R. Tremblay Jr., Colorado State University Extension housing specialist and professor, design and merchandising; C.E. Barber, former Colorado State University professor, human development and family studies. 5/96. Reviewed 12/05.