Older Americans, beware: Falling can be dangerous, even deadly.
The number of deaths from falling tripled between 2000 and 2016, from about 8,600 to more than 25,000, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The rates of death from falls more than doubled, from 52 per 100,000 in 2000 to 122 per 100,000 in 2016.
The elderly are most at risk, the data show. The rate of death from falling was 42 per 100,000 for those between 75 and 79, compared with 591 per 100,000 for people 95 and older. The reasons for these stark increases were unknown, researchers said, and there may have been some overestimation or underestimation of deaths.
But falling is a danger, and it can lead to serious injuries and diseases. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the octogenarian U.S. Supreme Court Justice, was hospitalized for falling in November, as was 95-year-old entertainer Bob Barker the year before.
The consequences extend far past cuts and bruises. Falling increases the difficulty of daily living activities by 166%, heart problems jump 46% and depression increases 58%, according to the report “The Shock of Falling Among Older Americans.” Almost three million older Americans end up in emergency rooms after falling, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
A fall can lead to broken bones, which take longer to heal among older patients and in some cases completely debilitate someone. Not everyone suffers the same — the risks can be more detrimental for someone overweight or frail, for example.
There are also ways to prevent falling. Strength and mobility may be just as important, if not more so, as one’s age when determining the risk of an individual, according to medical experts.
Older Americans should consider installing better lighting, grab bars by stairs or markers near any risen parts of the floor or steps in their homes. They should also focus on exercising, even simply by walking more, which will keep them mobile and potentially delay diseases, like heart disease or chronic illnesses. Some communities have programs to help older people find balance and stay active.
Cognitive abilities may also thwart falling, according to another study from the University of British Columbia recently published in the Journal of American Medical Association about home exercise programs. Standing tall and remaining balanced depends on the brain calculating how far someone needs to extend or lift her foot and paying attention to everything in his surroundings.
The UBC researchers had participants — all of whom had a history of falling — perform balancing and resistance training exercises in their homes using simple equipment, such as free weights. The participants who completed the program were less likely to fall repeatedly, and improved their cognitive functions as well. “It is well known that exercise benefits older people in general, but what was special about this study group was that they are at very high risk for losing their independence,” said Teresa Liu-Ambrose, principal investigator at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute and a physical therapy professor at the University of British Columbia. “Another fall may mean the inability to live in their own homes.”