As the number of older adults and people with chronic diseases dramatically increases over the next three decades, the American medical system will face tremendous challenges. Falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-related death among seniors, at a cost of well over $30 billion annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — and by 2020, spending is expected to double. Given that the number of people over 65 will double as well in the next few decades, reducing the incidence of falls through effective fall protection and prevention is a national priority.
Who Falls, Why, and the Consequences
Every year, a third of adults 65 and older suffer falls, according to CDC statistics, and a senior adult is treated for a fall-related injury every 14 seconds in America’s emergency departments. A senior dies from a fall every 29 minutes — that’s about 22,000 annually. America’s fastest-growing age cohort is adults over 85. This is especially significant since people over 75 are up to five times more likely to be admitted to a long-term care facility as a result of a fall than people aged 65–74.
Falls are the leading cause of fractures among seniors. The most common are to the hand, forearm, upper arm, ankle, pelvis, hip, and spine. Falls are also the leading cause of traumatic brain injury among older adults; in addition, they’re responsible for more than 95 percent of hip fractures.
The effects of a hip fracture are both physical and psychological. Beyond the immediate pain, hospitalization, and rehabilitation, hip fractures are deadly. One out of five patients who break their hips die within a year. The knowledge that one is much more likely to fracture his hip a second time reinforces fears of falling — fears intense enough to cause many seniors to isolate themselves at home, which may in turn lead to a decline in quality of life and early death.
Older adults face the same hazards everybody else must contend with. Slower reflexes, poor vision, dizziness from medications, or a host of other age-related problems may lead them to be more susceptible, however, than younger adults might be. In addition to being at a higher risk for falling, seniors are more likely to be injured when they do fall — the result of reduced cushioning and potentially more fragile bones.