Aging & Longevity
Despite efforts to keep senior citizens from
falling, it seems to be more common
Study finds those who have fallen in last two years
is more prevalent than in 1998
19, 2015 – Falling is bad news for senior citizens - it is the most
frequent cause of injury in older adults in the U.S. and leads to
substantial disability and mortality. The really bad news is that
despite increased cautions to seniors about these dangers the number of
people 65 and older that are falling is increasing.
The prevalence among the elderly that say they have
experienced a fall within the last two years has increased since 1998,
according to a research letter published online by JAMA Internal
But, there is some good news and some indication
that all the warnings extended to seniors are having some benefits. The
researchers did not find an increase in injuries from falling.
“We expected an increase because older adults are
getting older and there are more 80 and 90 year old adults than before,
but we were very surprised to find that the increase in falls was not
due to the changing demography,” says lead author Christine Cigolle,
M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor in the departments of Family Medicine
and Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan and a research
scientist at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System Geriatric Research,
Education and Clinical Center (GRECC).
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“We saw a higher number of falls across all age
groups - not just the oldest –and that was unexpected.”
Cigolle and coauthors looked at time trends in
falling in a nationally representative sample of middle-aged and older
adults in the Health and Retirement Study.
Falling was defined by the researchers as at least
one self-reported fall in the preceding two years. The authors
hypothesized that any increase in prevalence would be due to changes in
the age structure of the population.
Study results show that among all adults 65 years
or older, the two-year prevalence of self-reported falls increased from
28.2 percent in 1998 to 36.3 percent in 2010.
“Contrary to our hypothesis, we observed an
increase in fall prevalence among older adults that exceeds what would
be expected owing to the increasing age of the population.
Fortunately Injuries Did Not Increase
Despite the greater prevalence of reported falls,
however, the study did not find that older adults were reporting more
Authors note that programs like “Matter of Balance”
that focus on making older adults more aware of balance and provide
strategies to reduce risks of falling, may also improve reporting.
However, further research is needed to identify possible reasons behind
the numbers, such as an increase in fall risk factors (e.g.,
cardiovascular and psychiatric medications that may have side effects
like dizziness) or an increase in fall risk behavior.
“It’s possible that older adults are more aware of
fall risk and may be more likely to report it now than before,” says
Cigolle, who is also a member of the Institute of Gerontology and the
Institute for Healthcare
Policy and Innovation.
“However, if the prevalence of falls is actually
increasing as much as it seems to be, we need to do more work to
identify possible factors and how we can address what we know to be a
high risk among a vulnerable group.”
U-M is among 10 clinical trial sites in the country for a major
study on preventing fall injuries among the elderly and to find
effective, evidence-based strategies to address the personal and public
health burden of falls. The trial is funded by the National Institutes
of Health and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).
GRECC Director Neil Alexander, M.D., M.S., professor in the Division of
Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the U-M Medical School, is the
lead investigator for the U-M site.
Dr. Cigolle is supported by a grant from the
National Institute on Aging.
Additional Authors: Jinkyung Ha,
Ph.D.; Lillian Min, M.D., MSHS; Pearl G. Lee, M.D. M.S; Neil Alexander,
M.D. M.S., all of U-M. Caroline Blaum, M.D., M.S., formerly of U-M and
now with New York University Langone Medical Center.
Tanya Gure M.D., of Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.