Fatal falls by Americans age 65 and older rose significantly between 1993 and 2003 but were consistently higher among men than women, a new federal study has shown.
In 2003, a total of 13,700 seniors 65 and older died from falls, making accidental tumbles the leading cause of injury deaths in that age group, according to a study published yesterday in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
“Fall death rates have increased faster than fall injury rates,” said Judy Stevens, an epidemiologist in CDC’s Injury Center and the study’s lead author. “In large part, this is because people are living longer, and many of our seniors are now older and frailer.”
Many people who once died at younger ages of conditions such as heart disease, cancer and stroke are surviving those diseases. But this, she said, does not mean they are hearty.
“They are older and more frail, and they need our help to prevent potentially fatal injuries,” Ms. Stevens said.
Asked why men are more likely to die from falls than women, she said that “elderly men have more chronic conditions than older women, so they are likely to be more frail.”
During the 10 years studied, fatal fall rates increased 55 percent overall for elderly men and women. But the death rate for men was “significantly higher” than for women, researchers said.
For men, the fatality rate climbed from 32 per 100,000 population in 1993 to 46 per 100,000 population in 2003. For women, it rose from 19.5 per 100,000 to 31 per 100,000 during the same period.
The CDC report also analyzed hospitalizations of seniors for hip fractures between 1993 and 2003, and of nonfatal injuries resulting from falls in elderly people treated in hospital emergency rooms between 2001 and 2005.
Hip fractures declined by 15.5 percent during the 10-year period, and the “change in the overall rate of nonfatal injuries from falls was not statistically significant” in the first five years of this century, the authors said.
Explaining the study’s importance, the authors said that “unintentional falls are a common occurrence among older adults,” which “can result in death, disability, nursing-home admissions and direct medical costs.”
In addition to the nearly 14,000 seniors who died in falls in 2003, almost 1.8 million were treated in emergency departments that year for injuries sustained in falls and more than 460,000 required hospitalization, according to the researchers’ data.
Data on fatal falls were obtained from annual mortality information of the Vital Statistics of the United States. The National Hospital Discharge Survey provided them with data on admissions for hip fractures.
Another source, the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System — All Injury Program, which relies on a national sample of 66 hospitals, was where the researchers got data on other nonfatal injuries from falls.
In contrast to fatal falls, rates for nonfatal, fall-related injuries, on average, were 48 percent higher for women than for men, the study found.