MAY 10, 2023

Deaths caused by falls have risen among senior adults in the United States, according to a new 20-year study. The findings highlight the need for a continued focus on falls prevention, the investigator says.

In 2020, there were over 42,000 deaths caused by falls nationwide, and 86% occurred in people aged 65 years and older, reported researcher Alexis R. Santos-Lozada, PhD, of Pennsylvania State University. In addition, falls remain the leading cause of injury among older adults in the United States and among the top causes of death.

A 20-year analysis
To further examine falls-related mortality over time, he analyzed data between 1999 and 2020, accessed through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER platform, which calculates mortality rates by combining death counts with US Census Bureau population estimates.

The resulting analysis included age-adjusted mortality rates per year per 100,000 people for adults aged 65 years or older overall. Fall-related differences were also examined by gender, race and ethnicity.

Falls grow in number, rate
Deaths caused by falls increased in number and rates for the entire study population and for all subgroups, the analysis showed. Overall, deaths from falls rose from more than 10,000 in 1999 to more than 36,000 in 2020, with a total of more than 478,000 occurring among US adults aged 65 years or older during the 21-year study period.

Increases over time within sex and race and ethnicity subgroups were significant, Santos-Lozada added. Age-adjusted mortality rates were highest among white older adults, followed by American Indian or Alaska Native seniors, Asian or Pacific Islander seniors and African American seniors.

The relative ranking of the different groups has not changed over time, although the magnitude of increase varied. When the results were examined by sex, for example, the highest magnitude of increase varied between men and women depending on analysis factors.

The findings are a wake-up call for stakeholders, Santos-Lozada said. 

“Given the increase in mortality due to falls among adults aged 65 years or older, continued work to prevent falls and reduce falls-related mortality is warranted,” he wrote.

Full findings were published in JAMA. 


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