Identifying Risk Factors for Falls can Help Older Adults Live Their Fullest Lives

Falls are not an inevitable part of aging.

Robin Lee
October 07, 2019

Falls Prevention Awareness Day was Sept. 23, but preventing falls is important every day. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among adults age 65 and older in the United States. They account for more than 3 million emergency department visits, 900,000 hospitalizations and about 30,000 deaths each year. Falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury, and more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling. These injuries can make it hard for a person to get around, do everyday activities or live on their own. More troubling, death rates from falls increased by more than 30% (from 47 to 62 per 100,000 people) between 2007 and 2016.

Many people who fall, even if they are not injured, become afraid of falling. This fear may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities. When a person is less active, they become weaker and this increases their chances of falling.

The economic impact of fall injuries and deaths is substantial, accounting for nearly $50 billion in direct medical costs each year. Fall injuries are among the 20 most expensive medical conditions, and government-funded programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, finance about 75% of these costs. As the American population continues to age, and with 10,000 people in the United States turning 65 every day, we could expect to see 49 million falls, 12 million fall injuries and almost 100,000 fall-related deaths per year by 2030.

Preventing and reducing falls lowers healthcare spending, improves health and fosters independence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries (STEADI) initiative offers a coordinated approach for healthcare providers to implement clinical practice guidelines for fall prevention, and educational materials and tools to improve fall prevention. Examples of evidence-based interventions include programs focused on increasing strength and balance (such as physical therapy), reducing medications that increase fall risk and improving home safety.

CDC developed STEADI to help healthcare providers make fall prevention a routine part of clinical care. STEADI is based on the American and British Geriatric Societies clinical guideline for the prevention of older adult falls. STEADI includes a recently published coordinated care plan that offers healthcare systems and providers a 12-step framework to manage their older patients’ fall risk. CDC also collaborated with the University of North Carolina to develop STEADI-Rx, which engages community pharmacists to support older adult fall prevention. STEADI Rx encourages pharmacists to identify older adults who may be at risk for a fall based on the types of medications filled at the pharmacy. They can screen older adults for fall risk, assess their medications, and communicate with the older adult and their healthcare providers on how to optimize their medication to improve health and reduce falls.

More than 90% of older adults see a medical provider at least once a year, and many of these individuals see their pharmacists even more frequently. Clinicians and pharmacists can both serve as critical resources to help inform and empower older adults to address one or more specific fall risk factors.

Falls are not an inevitable part of aging, and there are many resources available to help keep older adults safe and independent longer. Older adults and their caregivers can take care of their health by speaking with their providers about fall risks and prevention, staying active, having their eyes checked annually and checking their homes for safety hazards. Together, we can work towards healthy aging for all Americans.

Robin Lee

Robin Lee, PhD, MPH, is an epidemiologist and team lead for the Safety Promotion Team within the Applied Science Branch, Division of Injury Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

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