Falls among elderly increase over 12-year period

fallsOne of the most serious health concerns for the elderly seems to be becoming more common.

A recent study out of the University of Michigan has found that self-reported falls among Americans 65 years and older increased by about 8 percent between 1998 and 2000. The researchers report that a greater increase in falls was seen than what would have been expected owing to the increasing age of the population.

“We expected an increase because older adults are getting older and there are more 80 and 90 year old adults than before, but we were very surprised to find that the increase in falls was not due to the changing demography,” lead researcher Christine Cigolle, M.D., said in a University of Michigan news release.

Overall, falls among the elderly are a source of serious concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cite falls as the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries among Americans 65 and older. In 2013, 2.5 million nonfatal falls among this age group were treated in emergency departments, and more than 734,000 of these patients were hospitalized.

Though reports of falling, defined in the study as at least one self-reported fall in the preceding two years, increased, the researchers did not find an increase in reports of fall injuries. Cigolle and colleagues write that programs designed to make older adults more aware of fall risk may also improve fall reporting.

“Alternatively, if a true increase in falling is occurring, then further research is needed to identify possible reasons, such as an increase in fall risk factors (eg, cardiovascular and psychiatric medications) or an increase in fall risk behavior,” the researchers write.

Multiple government and nonprofit agencies, such as the CDC and National Council on Aging, say effective medication management is an important way to prevent falls and associated injuries. Many people aged 65 and older take multiple medications, thus raising the specter of drug interactions and adverse side effects, such as dizziness, that could lead to falls.

For more information on preventing falls, visit the National Council on Aging’s website or consult the information available on the CDC website.