Falls common among older adults, CDC reports

New data indicate that more than one in four U.S. adults ages 65 years and older reported falling at least once in the previous year in 2020 and that 38,742 died due to an unintentional fall in 2021.

The CDC recently reported updated data on rates of falls and unintentional fall-related deaths among older U.S. adults.

Researchers used data from the 2020 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and 2021 National Vital Statistics System to determine the percentage of older adults who reported at least one fall during the previous year, as well as rates of unintentional fall-related deaths. Measures were stratified by demographic characteristics, U.S. Census Bureau region, and state. Results were published Sept. 1 by MMWR.

In 2020, 14 million older adults (27.6%) reported falling during the previous year, with a greater percentage of women reporting falling than men (28.9% vs. 26.1%). Nationwide, the percentage of older adults who reported falling ranged from 19.9% in Illinois to 38.0% in Alaska. In 2021, 38,742 (78.0 per 100,000 population) older adults died as the result of unintentional falls, with a range of 30.7 per 100,000 in Alabama to 176.5 in Wisconsin. The unintentional fall-related death rate was higher among men than women (91.4 per 100,000 vs. 68.3 per 100,000).

Differences by state might be explained by variations in populations at high risk for falls, the researchers said. Because older adults have multiple fall risk factors, research into state-to-state variation in risk factor prevalence, such as chronic conditions, disability, alcohol consumption, access to fall prevention activities and health care, and social determinants of health related to falls could help explain state differences, they noted.

The study demonstrated that women fall more than men but men die from their falls more than women. Possible explanations for differences by sex may include differences in attitudes toward fall prevention and circumstances leading to falls or fall injuries, the researchers said. “Previous studies suggest that men might be less receptive than women to fall prevention messages, and less likely to participate in fall prevention programs,” they wrote. “Men are more likely than women to sustain fall-related injuries on ice or snow and while using ladders or other equipment for elevation. In addition, the modifiable risk factors leading to fall-related injuries might differ between men and women.”

The study concluded that falls among older adults are common but preventable and that clinicians should talk with patients about their risk for falls as well as fall prevention. The researchers noted that the CDC's Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries (STEADI) initiative recommends that clinicians screen and assess older adults for fall risk and intervene using effective preventive strategies. “Everyone, including state, tribal, and local health departments and organizations working with older adults can help older adults self-screen for their risk of falling, using the online falls free checkup, and encourage older adults to speak to their health care provider,” they wrote.