Falls in the Elderly: Statistics & Facts to Know in 2020
The US birth rate has taken a sharp drop. A news report released by NBC at the start of this year revealed that not only have birth rates declined, they’ve been doing so for the last seven years. On another note, most falls in the elderly statistics show an upward trend. But why does this matter?
Because of declining birth rates and increased longevity, current and future trends indicate that our economy will be relying more heavily on an aging workforce. This is great, of course, since ageism has absolutely no place in today’s society. However, this also presents some challenges.
There are several new aspects that companies and healthcare providers must consider as they provide support for senior workers in the field. In addition, more and more seniors are living independently, meaning they, too, need to know how to protect themselves from dangerous falls and the health risks they pose.
In this post, we’ll take a comprehensive look into a plethora of statistics illustrating the prevalence and severity of falls in the elderly as well as the importance of fall prevention.
The Most Important Stats & Facts About Falls in the Elderly
What Causes Falls?
1. Several falls statistics reveal that bad weather, glare from bright lights, clutter, or even recently rearranged furniture can contribute to a higher fall risk.
Storms (or just plain, old rainy weather) and failing to keep up with household maintenance may cause leaks, making it more likely to slip inside the home. Unorganized spaces, areas cluttered by obstacles like storage boxes and out-of-place cords, and furnishings placed where people walk all represent some danger. Relatives and senior caretakers should keep an eye out for these kinds of safety hazards. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) found that 67% of falls aren’t ones that happen from a height, but rather are same-level ones where individuals slipped or tripped.
2. In the case of elderly falls, the facts show that as people age, they’re more susceptible to sustaining broken bones after a fall.
(National Institutes of Health)
This is a grave problem. According to the National Institutes of Health, broken bones are linked to osteoporosis. And according to the Mayo Clinic, osteoporosis is a disease that impedes bone tissue regeneration. As a result, the bones become weak and brittle—when viewed under a microscope, these bones appear more porous, with bigger “holes” than normal (the name literally means “porous bone”).
The condition can get so severe that a violent cough alone may result in a bone fracture. Symptoms include height loss, a slouching posture due to the spine curving, and back pain. Oftentimes, many people aren’t aware that they have osteoporosis in the first place, which is in part why the disease is so dangerous, especially in older persons.
3. Stats on older adults and falls mention that ill-fitting clothing and shoes, or impractical footwear, also contribute to a higher likelihood of falling.
Seems like an obscure thought that shouldn’t need any further explanation, but the Illinois Podiatric Medical Association (IPMA) cites that 75% of people in the US will experience foot problems at least once in their lifetime.
Just think about it for a moment. How many hours a day do we spend on our feet, mobile or standing stationary? The IPMA answers this question creatively with an interesting fact: Did you know that a 70-year-old will have walked so much in their lifetime that the distance they cover would be the equivalent of a stroll around the world? And not just one trip, but four times around the globe, apparently. It’s important to keep these falls in the elderly statistics in mind when purchasing our clothing and footwear.
4. Ear disorders affect balance and are among the additional conditions that can increase one’s chances of taking a fall.
The ears play a crucial part in the way the body balances itself. The movement of fluid in the ears’ semicircular canals work together with sail-like structures called the cupulae to send head movement signals to the brain. This is why ear infections and stuffiness from colds tend to make people dizzy and unstable on their feet.
Additionally, there’s an actual condition relating to imbalance that occurs in 35% of Americans 40 years of age and older. The condition, called inner ear balance disorder, is described as “a vestibular dysfunction of the inner ear” by WebMD. The 2009 article reports that individuals who displayed symptoms of the disorder were more likely to experience a fall of some kind. Statistics of falls in the elderly reveal this to be eight times more likely, in fact. What’s worse, it seems that the disorder typically presents itself in older age groups. With a host of ear-related issues potentially causing balance problems, it’s critical that elderly individuals undergo checkups on a regular basis.
5. Medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and kidney problems may increase the risk of falls.
(Wisconsin State Journal)
The European Parkinson’s Disease Association (EPDA) goes over several reasons why falls are associated with the disease. Firstly, though, they clarify that not all individuals with Parkinson’s are automatically susceptible to fall incidents. However, the disease affects the nervous system and movement, which is why these statistics about falls in the elderly indicate that it brings a greater risk.
Oftentimes, it begins with tremors or stiffness. Changes to an individual’s posture, weakening muscles, low blood pressure, eye problems, instability, and a freezing gait are all symptoms. These symptoms occur because dopamine levels dwindle and tend to become worse as time passes, and they render falls more likely.
6. Medications such as sedatives and antidepressants also contribute to an increased fall risk in older individuals.
One reason for this is because medications tend to have stronger effects among the elderly than in younger individuals. Drugs that slow the heart rate or lower blood pressure are also one of the many culprits that may lead to hypotension or syncope, and eventually a fall. Analysis of elderly falls statistics and medications have revealed that discontinuing cardiovascular medications reduces the chances of a tumble by half. The CDC warns that even seemingly harmless over-the-counter medicines can increase the risk of falls.
7. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, analgesics, opiates, antipsychotics, and anticonvulsants are all medicines that cause a high fall risk.
Psychotropics such as antidepressants can result in low sodium levels and, in turn, gait and attention issues that can induce falls. Anti-anxiety medications, on the other hand, may produce the same side effects as above, but they can also cause psychomotor dysfunctions, drug dependence, and even delirium.
8. Hearing loss has also been linked to a higher risk of falls in older people, as the statistics compiled in a 2015 review show.
We’ve discussed how the ears play a key part in transmitting signals to the brain to maintain positioning and balance. As it turns out, it isn’t just ear infections that impede the ear’s ability to play this role. A study from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that even with mild hearing loss, elderly participants had three times the risk of experiencing a fall. And to make matters worse, the risk increases by 140% with every 10 decibels of hearing range shrinkage.
Fortunately, the study also made a significant discovery: hearing aids counter the negative effects that hearing loss has on balance. This has led researchers to conclude that auditory cues play a significant part in spatial awareness, similar to how the eyes affect balance when lights in a room are suddenly turned off.
9. Statistics on falls in the elderly indicate a positive correlation between fat in the midsection and an increased fall risk.
The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, included fall histories spanning two years from seniors 65 years old and over. Data was gathered from a sample of about 3,400 elderly individuals. It found that those with central obesity were 37% more likely to experience a fall than those who had low to no visceral fat. Scientists reason that a higher center of gravity for obese individuals is probably a major factor to instability. (The lower the center of gravity, the more stable something is.)
Informative Facts and Statistics on Elderly Falls
10. The one-year mortality rate in seniors over 60 is as high as 58% following injuries related to trips, slips, and falls, statistics in the elderly show.
As you read through the previous section and learned about the causes of falls in the elderly, you may have noticed something critical: many of the causes are easily associated with aging. From hearing loss to sensitivity to medication, the human body undergoes changes that wind up making seniors the most at-risk demographic for falls and related injuries. Even a perfectly healthy senior without pre-existing conditions has a higher risk of falling than an individual from a younger age group simply because of how age affects the body.
11. As for falls and their treatment in hospitals, statistics reveal that there’s an elderly person receiving treatment for a fall every 11 seconds in the emergency room.
The range of injuries from falls can be something as harmless as a minor cut or bruise to a severe disability, and sometimes death. The level of physical damage from a fall depends on the energy the body absorbs on impact. Whether or not an individual sustains an injury depends on several factors: how they land, how strong their bones are, how their tissues absorb the energy of the impact, and how well their neuromuscular reflexes react to lessen the impact.
12. Patient falls in hospitals, according to statistics, occur in 700,000 to 1 million patients yearly.
(Patient Safety Network)
Studies have gone on to reveal that for every 1,000 days spent in the hospital, fall events occur at a rate of 3–5 times. The prevalence is higher among elderly patients, and of the injuries that take place from these fall incidents, one-third are serious. Because patient safety is considered basic protection and falls are regarded as easily preventable, patient falls are considered “never events” and therefore aren’t covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
13. Additional falls in the hospital statistics demonstrate that most tumbles occur in the bathroom or by the patient’s bed.
(U.S. National Library of Medicine)
These types of falls tend to happen among patients experiencing a state of confusion or physical instability. The prevalence of these reported falls seems to be increasing. This is likely due to a variety of reasons, such as better reporting systems, nurses having less time to spend with each patient, and a rising number of older patients receiving care—not to mention the increased number of patients who are seriously ill or under heavy sedation.
14. In the case of patient falls, statistics show that they’re preventable, meaning the fault is considered to lie solely with the hospital.
(Van Wey, Presby, & Williams Law)
Fall prevention in hospitals is considered a basic responsibility and part of the hospital’s duty in providing care. Updated standards in patient care require that hospitals assess patients in their care for fall risk. They’re also held responsible for managing risk factors like environmental hazards, medical conditions, and certain fall-inducing side effects from medications such as drowsiness and confusion.
15. Patient falls statistics from 2015 through 2016 alone revealed that falls are the most reported incident among both acute and community hospitals in the United Kingdom.
(National Health Service)
For mental health hospitals, falls ranked third on the “most reported incidents” list. Analyzing inpatient falls data in England, the report found that overall around 250,000 falls were reported in that particular year alone. It goes on to reveal that community hospitals have the highest falls per 1,000 bed days. Since elderly patients tend to stay at community hospitals for long periods due to a slower recovery, they’re at a higher risk for falling, potentially even falling several times.
16. In the United States, accidental falls in older people are shown by statistics to be the most reported incident at hospitals.
(U.S. National Library of Medicine)
Data from the National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators (NDNQI) showed that fall rates vary per nursing unit type. Medical nursing units tended to have the highest fall rates and the highest number of injury-sustaining falls despite having healthier older patients. This is attributed to these elderly individuals being more mobile. This, in turn, puts them in more situations where they might fall.
17. Every year, 37.3 million cases of falls worldwide result in serious injuries that need medical treatment.
(World Health Organization)
These particular instances result in over 17 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost, as reflected in many falls in the elderly statistics. For clarification, a single DALY is defined by the WHO as “one lost year of healthy life.” High morbidity from falls mostly occurs in people 65 years old and above and in children at the age of 15 or younger. Recent data suggests that 40% of lost DALYs are from falls in children. There is suspicion, however, that DALYs in older age groups are inaccurate since, for starters, they have fewer life years to account for.
18. Additional statistics for falls in the elderly from the WHO reveal that seniors above 65 suffer the most fatalities.
(World Health Organization)
In their 2018 fact sheet, the World Health Organization (WHO) explained that groups with the highest risk for falls are elderly individuals and children. They also disclosed that fatality rates in seniors increase with age. In the US, up to 30% of falls incur injuries, from bruising to head trauma and hip fractures. In children, falls happen mostly because kids, as they grow and develop, tend to test their independence, become more curious, and wind up taking more risks.
19. The elderly fall stats show that from 2007 to 2016 the incidence rate of falls has been a rising trend, with a 31% increase overall.
This 10-year study conducted by the CDC reveals that fatal falls have risen from 18,334 to 29,668 among Americans 65 years old and above, with a climb rate of approximately 3% per year. There’s also a variance between states. For example, the gap between Wisconsin and Alabama is especially huge, the death rates being 142.7 per 100,000 and 24.4 per 100,000 persons, respectively.
These statistics on elderly falls in the US may vary due to the inconsistent distribution of certain age-based demographics. The numbers may also be skewed by medical reports, since for some reason coroners tend to designate falls as the cause of death 14% less often than medical examiners.
20. There were 7 million injuries from falls among 29 million elderly Americans in 2014.
The following year didn’t just see an increase in falls among older age groups in the United States. There was also $50 billion in costs as part of the consequences of falls in the elderly. 75% was shouldered by Medicare and Medicaid.
According to the CDC, 20% of falls result in a serious injury, which is a direct contributor to these costs, sometimes leading to medical bankruptcy. It isn’t the falls themselves that pose long-term risks and costs, but the related injuries that occur. In elderly people taking medications like blood thinners, for example, the seriousness of injuries and complications are even more dire. Blood thinners can be lifesaving, but for those who experience a fall, they can worsen those injuries by causing excessive bleeding and bone fractures.
21. According to the slips, trips, and falls statistics from 2019, over 95% of these accidents in the elderly result in hip fractures.
Hip fractures can occur in the elderly who suffer from osteoarthritis, and the often involve surgery or hip replacement. Along with that comes a long recovery period with physical therapy. It can take anywhere from six months to an entire year for recovery, and during this extended period, physicians recommend minimizing pivoting or twisting movements along the leg and hip.
Naturally, this dominoes into other issues: loss of independence and insecurity moving around. Plus, the physical inactivity may result in even more complications such as bed sores, a urinary tract infection, muscle atrophy, blood clots, and depression.
22. In 2013, falls accounted for nearly 50% of traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases in hospitals.
Within the elderly population, these senior fall facts revealed a whopping 79% TBI incidence rate. This type of injury is especially dangerous since at first, patients may seem completely fine. On impact, the nerve fibers may tear, in addition to bruising in the brain. Trauma is often delayed, but eventually, swelling can push the brain against the skull, significantly decreasing blood flow.
Fluid buildup causes intracranial pressure as the brain tries to repair itself, which can cause further damage to other parts of the brain. Depending on the injury’s severity, a blood vessel may rupture and result in a blood clot that produces added pressure yet again. Unfortunately, seniors 75 years of age and older are the most vulnerable to traumatic brain injuries and, ultimately, to the resulting TBI fatalities.
23. CDC fall statistics also reveal that falls account for 95% of hip fractures in the 300,000 elderly people who end up being hospitalized for it per year.
The American Family Physician asserts that 25% of seniors who wind up falling and fracturing their hip die within six months of sustaining the injury. More than 50% of seniors who recover from hip fractures end up in nursing homes. And of these, another half remain in nursing homes for another year. This is in large part because the road to recovery from this type of injury is often littered with complications, including catheter-associated urinary tract infections or pressure ulcers from being immobile for longer periods of time.
24. In the aging population, a major cause of death is senior falls, with one death by fall occurring every 19 minutes.
In fact, falls are the primary cause of both non-fatal and fatal trauma in seniors. The National Council on Aging purports that 25% of Americans above 65 years of age experience falls yearly. Emergency facilities also treat more than 2.8 million cases a year due to falls. Of these cases, more than 800,000 result in hospital confinement and over 27,000 in death.
25. In the UK, falls in older people were shown in statistics to account for 77% of the total falls reported by hospitals.
(National Health Service)
These falls, however, accounted for a whopping 87% share of the actual associated costs. Of the £2.3 billion nationwide total that accounted for costs from falls both inside and outside of hospitals, elderly falls made up 25%.
Experts at the NHS extrapolated that a facility with beds for 800 patients will have about 1,500 falls, meaning £1.9 million. This doesn’t even account for every expenditure. The estimate doesn’t include external costs like the price of rehabilitation services outside of hospitals and the need for assisted care facility stays, for example.
26. The National Council on Aging forecasts that hip fractures due to falls will rise by 12% by 2030.
This increase and the overall rising trend in elderly falls statistics likely correlates with an increased aging population worldwide. Due to the decline in fertility and increased longevity because of better living standards, the share of the elderly among the global population is increasing.
According to the United Nations, developing regions will house 79% of the world’s population of seniors 60 years of age and older by 2050. More importantly, the study, spanning 143 countries, also found that in countries like the Netherlands, the prevalence of seniors 60 and over who live independently was as high as 93.4%.
27. Annually, around 9,500 senior fatalities are attributed to falls.
There’s a direct correlation between falls in the elderly and mortality. Among older age groups, falls are the primary cause of fatal and non-fatal trauma. And it isn’t just the fall and resulting injuries that are a cause of concern. Trips to the ER typically mean a long period of recovery and vulnerability afterward. It’s during these periods that sharp declines in health occur because usually elderly individuals will still attempt to do things themselves even though they’re not fully recovered.
28. For seniors, fall statistics from 2019 reveal Wisconsin as the state with the highest rate of deadly falls in the United States.
(Wisconsin State Journal)
In Wisconsin, 27% of deadly falls in seniors happened at a care facility of some kind, based on 2015–2017 data. In 2017, 2,664 falls were reported by assisted living facilities—even higher than 2016’s 2,371 reported falls. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Wisconsin’s fall rate among the elderly in nursing homes is 19.6%—higher than the national average, which is 17%.
Wisconsin’s number of citations per nursing home facility is also higher than the national average, at 130 citations in 2018. This information is based on data studied by Jim Robinson, a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Health Systems and Research Analysis.
Elderly Fall Prevention
29. Keeping hospital pathways clear of obstructions such as medical equipment helps reduce patient falls.
Patients in recovery tend to get easily disoriented due to weakness and instability. If a fall occurs, it’s important that hospital staff report the incident, evaluate the patient for injuries, check for alertness, and keep a close eye on them. If the patient can be safely moved, a healthcare professional should assist them back to bed or into a wheelchair with the help of another staff member.
Nevertheless, prevention is the best way to protect patients. Statistics of falls in the elderly show that keeping floors from being slippery and using good lighting are simple but effective measures in fall prevention.
30. Hospital patient falls statistics show that recent projects in fall prevention have actually been effective, resulting in a 35% reduction of hospital fall rates.
These projects also reduced the rate of falls that led to an injury by an impressive 63%. The Preventing Falls Targeting Solutions Tool, a “fact-based, systematic and data-driven problem-solving approach,” brought this about. Using a Six Sigma Lean approach, the Joint Commission developed the process to help facilities reduce falls. This approach—formed after thoughtful research into the pertinent elderly falls facts and data—is designed to achieve a “zero harm” or “no falls” status. The falls in the elderly statistics from 2020 will further speak to the efficacy of this system.
31. For elderly people coping with Parkinson’s disease, the EPDA names attentional strategies and visual and rhythmical cues as tools that help reduce the likelihood of falls.
The European Parkinson’s Disease Association (EPDA) explains that these cues are helpful because they use the part of the brain that’s unaffected by the disease. With visual cues, for example, an individual can use lines on the ground or patterns on the floor to help stabilize movement and keep their steps uniform while walking. Steady rhythms from music or a metronome also help achieve a similar effect.
32. Among other measures, the WHO recommends consulting with healthcare professionals to assess risk factors for falls.
(World Health Organization)
An earlier section discussed falls in the elderly statistics and the factors that contribute to increased chances of falls. A considerable number of them were medical conditions like low blood pressure, low blood sodium, ear infections, and any others that can cause dizziness or syncope. A doctor will be able to screen for these as well as evaluate any medications that make a fall more likely.
33. The WHO also suggests that at-risk elderly individuals participate in Tai-Chi and similar exercises for strength training and balance development to fight off falls.
(World Health Organization)
Harvard Health offers new senior fall facts asserting that Tai Chi has many health benefits for the elderly when it comes to fall prevention. As a slow and deliberate form of exercise, it promotes confidence in physical movement. Due to this approach, it can help overcome the fear of falling down again, which is crucial. For many seniors, this fear actually increases the likelihood of future falls.
It also hones proprioception—the sense of positional bodily awareness—a key element in promoting balance. Additionally, without pain or overexertion, practitioners can build muscular strength and flexibility. Dr. Gloria Yeh, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, explains that the controlled, unsupported movements in Tai Chi work the body’s core muscles, as well as the lower and upper extremities.
34. Devices with fall detection technology are now on the market to help seniors should they suffer a fall.
The falls in elderly statistics didn’t fall on deaf ears—there are many medical alert systems and other devices that offer fall detection out there. Even tech giants like Apple are taking an interest. Here’s how the feature works: using built-in sensors, the Apple Watch Series 4 detects swift movements that indicate the wearer may have had a fall. It issues alerts, then if the wearer remains immobile for a long period of time and doesn’t respond to the message alerts, it contacts emergency services.
According to Apple Insider, in the case of 67-year-old Toralv Ostvang, his Series 4 contacting Emergency Services undoubtedly saved his life. He was discovered unconscious in his home in Norway when the response team arrived. Later tests revealed he suffered multiple skull fractures that would have probably resulted in death if emergency care hadn’t been administered.
35. The CDC, to combat falls in hospitals, created the STEADI program, which provides a better quality of life and shortens hospital stays.
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
The program promotes the screening of older individuals for fall risk factors. It then identifies and works on reducing the ones that can be mitigated. After a two-year study of the program, researchers found that its implementation reduced the average length of hospital stays from 7.9 to 6.5 days. Of the discharged patients, nearly 10% more were discharged home. Before STEADI, 1.5% of patients who suffered a fall returned for treatment for another fall. This number was reduced to 0.6%.
Who is at most risk for falls?
Across all age groups, our elderly falls statistics confirm that older people have the highest fall risk. According to a global report on falls, the risk and frequency increases with age and the deterioration of the physical condition. Fall rates are higher in elderly people living in nursing homes, and 40% of them suffer repeat falls. Additionally, women are more likely to suffer fall injuries than men, across all age groups except 75- to 79-year-olds.
What time of day do most falls occur?
In general, falls take place in the daytime. The World Health Organization states that only 20% of falls actually happen during the night (i.e., between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.). Falls at night may have something to do with stumbling in the dark to use the bathroom.
In another study published in Age and Ageing, research into falls in older people and the associated statistics reveal contrasting information: falls happen mostly at night for the elderly. Nighttime falls counted for 57.1% of the more than 3,000 cases reviewed. Of these nighttime falls, 56.9% were associated with trips to the toilet.
What season increases the risk of falls in the elderly?
According to a report by the World Health Organization, winter is the season that presents a higher fall risk in countries with marked temperature drops. This is attributed to the fact that colder temperatures create slippery conditions, contribute to a decline in physical activity, and can induce mild hypothermia, which results in slower reaction times.
A separate report from the British Geriatrics Society correlates these elderly fall stats, discovering that a majority of fall incidents occurred from November to March. In Hong Kong, the findings are similar. Falls were identified to have a seasonal pattern that peaked during the wintertime, and the report states that this was likely due to lower humidity and air temperature. Meanwhile, in the warm country of Brazil, a study conducted among the elderly in Rio Grande do Sul found winter to be the time period when falls resulted in more serious injuries.
Where do most falls occur in the elderly?
Most falls take place at home, based on several sources that examined falls in older adults and recent statistics. Specifically, 72.8% occur in the home, according to an analysis published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Contrary to popular belief, bathroom falls only account for 35.7% of injurious fall incidents.
In the case of nursing homes, the Journal of the Royal Society asserts that most falls occur during trips to and from the bathroom. Typically, though, falls at home differ across genders. The prevalence of falls among women is greater indoors, while for men, falls are more likely to take place outdoors.
How do the elderly die from falls?
Statistics on falls in the elderly reveal that fatalities are mostly due to injuries like trauma to the brain, sepsis, and hospital-acquired infections. The complications that degrading health cause when the body fails to make a recovery afterward can also lead to death.
In the case of hip fractures, for example, an elderly individual’s condition further deteriorates due to their limited mobility. Side effects from inactivity include pressure sores and urinary tract infections from catheter use. In other words, complications can compound and lead to death. Sadly, the likelihood of an older person passing away after a fall is an astonishing three times higher in those aged 70 and over.
How can the risk of falling be reduced?
When it comes to preventing seniors’ falls, the checklist for your home should first include removing any environmental hazards. Clutter or even simple home disrepair can be dangerous to elderly people living independently. In both care facilities and the home, good lighting and the use of non-slip mats are helpful. Other helpful measures include wearing clothing and shoes that fit appropriately and undergoing regular check-ups to identify and address fall-related conditions early on.
Regular exercise is another great preventative measure. The Journal of the American Medical Association published an analysis of clinical trials spanning at least a year involving participants 60 years of age and older. Overall, the review covered 46 studies and over 20,000 participants. It concluded that rising trends of falls in the elderly statistics may be reduced by long-term exercise such as moderate aerobic, strength, and balance training. In the trial, the exercise frequency was three times a week for about an hour per session.