In the United States, falls are the leading cause of serious and/or fatal injuries among people age 65 and older.
One-third of people over the age of 65 who live in the community fall each year; the incidence increases to 50 percent for those over the age of 80. Older adults who have fallen previously or who stumble frequently are two to three times more likely to fall within the next year.
For adults over age 65, falls and injuries from falls are a major threat to health, independence, and quality of life. Older adults want to live independently and age in place; a fall can threaten that desire and is often seen as the beginning of a decline that will end with a nursing home admission.
One out of three older adults falls each year and those who fall are much more likely to fall again. While many are not injured, 20 to 30 percent of falls cause moderate or serious injuries such as fractures or head traumas, which are associated with significant morbidity, reduced mobility, decreased functioning, and loss of independence.
Falls have a significant economic impact. In 2000, the direct medical cost for falls was $19 billion (Stevens 2006). This is comparable to the costs of treating cancer or arthritis. Most of these costs were for treating nonfatal injuries.
Fractures accounted for just more than a third of all nonfatal injuries and 61 percent of costs. Medical expenditures for women, who made up 58 percent of the older population, were two to three times higher than expenditures for men, regardless of whether medical care was received in a hospital or in an outpatient setting such as a clinic or doctor’s office.
The majority of falls among community-dwelling seniors occur in and around their home. Research has demonstrated that improving home safety—either by assessments and modifications by occupational therapists for people who have fallen, or through home modifications as part of a comprehensive fall prevention program—reduces the chances of future falls.
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