Why Are Falls So Dangerous for Seniors?


While cancer and heart disease are known for being lethal, deaths from these health issues have actually declined over time. Conversely, death rates from falls have increased, particularly among the elderly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the number one cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in Americans aged 65 and older.

Approximately 27,000 seniors succumb annually due to falls, but how can such a seemingly innocuous accident be life-threatening?

How Falls Increase the Risk of Death

Depending on how a senior lands when they fall, they could experience anything from a broken hip to a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Fractured bones and soft tissue injuries are the most common injuries. Unfortunately for seniors, even minor trauma can require hospitalization, and many never regain the level of functionality and confidence they enjoyed before the incident.

Advanced age, frailty and pre-existing medical conditions mean that older individuals are less likely to recover from their injuries. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Mississippi found that seniors older than 70 experienced a three-fold increase in their risk of death after a fall when compared with those 69 and younger. According to the CDC, trauma to the brain was the cause of death in 41% of fall fatalities among seniors in 2010. However, even with a less serious injury, like a broken bone, the course of treatment and prognosis are still complicated. Hip fractures often require surgical procedures involving sedation and further trauma—two things that can jeopardize an older person's life.

Even if a senior survives the fall and subsequent medical care, a longer recovery time translates to a longer hospital stay. This leaves the elderly more vulnerable to hospital-acquired infections, such as pneumonia, sepsis, C. diff, and catheter-associated urinary tract infections (UTIs). Matters can be complicated further if an infection is resistant to commonly used antibiotic drugs.

Non-Fatal Falls Have Long-Term Effects

Complications from a fall can ultimately render a senior incapable of caring for themselves. Only 22% of seniors in the University of Mississippi study could handle living on their own after being released from the hospital following a fall. After such a traumatic and painful incident, many older individuals reduce their activity levels due to a fear of falling again. This reaction is understandable, but can lead to increased frailty and risk of a repeat fall. Changes in mental state, such as depression, delirium, or even dementia can develop as well.

Prevention Is Key

The best preventive methods involve addressing and minimizing hazards before they can pose a threat to an aging loved one’s health. Not every accident can be avoided, but taking certain precautions can extend a senior’s independence and greatly reduce their risk of injury and death.

Read: Tips for Preventing Falls, Fractures and Broken Bones in Elders

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This article is very very TRUE unfortunately. I just recently lost my 101 year old dad because he used a cane and NOT a walker as he was stubborn and would NOT listen to me as I am in the medical profession and KNEW better.. He admitted it was his fault but it was too late. He fell and was taken to the E.R., had successful surgery was doing good at the beginning and then it got harder and harder and harder where he just gave up. He stopped eating and I had to literally force him to take in soup and juices and ensure but then it got to the point he hated the taste of everything and stopped eating and with NO PT or OT he was doomed even though I pushed and pushed he gave up and I lost him FROM A FALL last month. Needless to say I have been seeing a psychiatrist for I went into a bad state of depression. PLEASE HEED ADVICE FOR THE ELDERLY FALLING CAN BE DEADLY!
Just read a report that also indicated hearing loss may play a part in falls.
Researchers Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., at Johns Hopkins, and his colleague Luigi Ferrucci, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Institute on Aging used data from the 2001 to 2004 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Lin, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Ferrucci found that people with a 25-decibel hearing loss, classified as mild, were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling. Every additional 10-decibels of hearing loss increased the chances of falling by 1.4 fold. This finding still held true, even when researchers accounted for other factors linked with falling, including age, sex, race, cardiovascular disease and vestibular function. Even excluding participants with moderate to severe hearing loss from the analysis didn't change the results.
Source: Johns Hopkins
Is it normal for an elderly person to lie about falling? The only time we really know that my mother-in-law fell is when she's bleeding or needs help getting up. She also doesn't want to use her cane. My brother-in-law ordered a walker but I doubt that she'll use it. Why? I'm not sure if it's vanity or what. Luckily she hasn't broken a bone (knock on wood).