Deaths From Fall-related Injuries Rapidly Increasing Among Older Americans

July 23rd, 2019
By: Content Staff

The number of seniors ages 75 and older dying from injuries related to falls tripled from 2000 to 2016. Some leading researchers say a fall-prevention program led by physical therapists might be the answer to reversing this trend, according to PT in Motion, a publication of the American Physical Therapy Association.

In a study published in JAMA entitled “Mortality from falls among U.S. adults aged 75 years or older, 2000-2016,” researchers used data from the National Vital Statistics System to determine the number of older Americans dying from falls. The authors found that in 2000, there were 8,613 deaths of seniors ages 75 or older from falls, but that number had swelled to 25,189 in 2016, according to PT in Motion.

According to the study, the age-adjusted mortality rates in 2016 were 42.1 per 100,000 people for seniors ages 75-79 and 590.7 per 100,000 people older than 95. From 2000 to 2016, the age-adjusted mortality rate from falls per 100,000 men rose from 60.7 deaths to 116.4. For women, it rose from 46.3 to 105.9, PT in Motion reported.

The authors of a separate JAMA editorial said the reason for the sharp increase in mortality rates isn’t clear, but cost-effective interventions can make a difference for this vulnerable population. One such fall-prevention intervention for adults living at home is the Otago home-based exercise program. In a study published in JAMA, physical therapist Teresa Liu-Ambrose said the program showed success by decreasing the number of falls by patients who fell repeatedly, according to PT in Motion.

In the Otago program, a PT provides balance, strength and walking exercises that get progressively more difficult over time. Participants in the JAMA study repeated the exercises three times a week and walked for 30 minutes each week. The PT returned every other week to tweak the exercises, and patients were evaluated after six and 12 months by a physician, PT in Motion said.

The study found that a group of patients who completed the Otago program tallied 236 falls, or 1.4 per person, over the following year, compared with 366 falls, or 2.1 per person, for the control group. The latter group received only “usual care,” including fall-risk and medical assessment; treatment by a geriatrician, including lifestyle recommendations; and referral to other providers, if necessary.

Though the group in the Otago program fell fewer times, the authors of the study noted that their findings were in line with previous research, which found no significant differences between groups in overall fall risk, general balance or mobility. “It is possible to observe a significant reduction in falls without significant improvements in physical performance,” the authors concluded, according to PT in Motion.

The APTA encourages PTs to visit its Balance and Falls webpage for extensive resources on fall prevention:

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