Washington, D.C. – New Mexico, Wisconsin and Vermont have the highest death rates from accidental falls among people over the age of 65, according to new data being released by the National Safety Council at a congressional briefing on this escalating crisis.
“Falls among people 65 and older is now the leading cause of injury deaths,” said Bill O’Connell, executive director of Government Affairs for NSC. “Furthermore, the mortality rate from falls for older Americans has increased 39 percent between 1999 and 2005. We must find a way to combat this growing public health concern before it is too late.”
According to the 50-state breakdown of senior death rates from accidental falls, New Mexico ranked highest with 99.26 deaths per 100,000 people over the age of 65, and Alaska ranked lowest, with 15.95 deaths. Florida had the highest total number of deaths with 1,405, but ranked 22nd in death rate at 43.01 per 100,000. (A complete list of the rankings is attached.)
“The CDC’s alarming statistics showing that falls among seniors are a leading cause of senior disability and death should be a call to action to all of us,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) who hosted the briefing in conjunction with the Congressional Prevention Caucus. “Senior falls are not inevitable, and therefore we need to focus our federal policies and programs on proven strategies to prevent falls and their disabling and often fatal consequences.”
At the briefing experts from NSC, AARP, CDC , ElderLink and the National Council on Aging discussed the impact of falls on the elderly, the escalating cost to our nation’s health care system, and the steps needed to deal with this crisis.
“As the nation’s more than 79 million baby boomers head into their senior years, this is a problem that will only continue to escalate,” said AARP President Jennie Chin Hansen, at the Congressional briefing. “Each year, one in three Americans 65 and older falls and nearly 16,000 die from complications from a fall. That’s more than the number of deaths that would have occurred if one 737 airliner had crashed every week of the year, killing all aboard.”
Falls among the elderly also have taken a serious toll on our nation’s health care system. Medical treatment for falls among people over the age of 65 costs more than $19 billion in 2000. That number is projected to increase to $43.8 billion by 2020.
“The average cost of a fall injury for people over the age of 72 is $19,440 per person,” said David Wallace of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention. He noted there are ways to help deal with this problem. ”A recent CDC review of effective community-based interventions showed that falls among older adults can be reduced by 25% to 40% through interventions such as exercise and home modifications.”
There has been some progress on the issue with the recent signing of the “Safety of Seniors Act” (S. 845) into law. The bill calls for a public education campaign, research and demonstration projects to “expand and intensify programs with respect to research and related activities concerning elder falls.”
“With the signing of this legislation into law, Congress and the President have taken an important step in finding a way to deal with the growing crisis of falls,” said NSC’s O’Connell. “However, to show it is serious about reducing the rate of elderly falls, Congress must fund these successful programs and initiatives.” NSC estimates that Congress would need to add $20.7 million to the CDC budget for FY09 to provide these services.
ElderLink is one of those successful programs helping to prevent older adults from falling in their homes. The community outreach program offers home visits to older adults to help educate them about what they can do to maintain their independence and reduce fall hazards in their homes. Simple vision screening tests for people over the age of 65 also has been shown to reduce falls by four percent.
“Older people want to stay in their own homes and their own communities rather than assisted living,” Jennifer Edge, a social worker from Elderlink in Fairfax, Va., who spends her days helping older adults and their families prevent falls in their homes, told staff at the Congressional briefing. “We go to their homes and show them simple things they can do to prevent falls, such as securing rugs with non-skid bottoms, installing handrails and other easy changes.”
The National Safety Council (nsc.org) saves lives by preventing injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the roads through leadership, research, education and advocacy.