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Senior Health

Falls Becoming More Frequent in Older Adults

Falls among older adults appear to have been increasing over a 12-year period, according to a new study. And the increase isn’t due to rising numbers of older people.

The findings from the nationally representative study were published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

About one third of older adults fall each year, and falling is the most frequent cause of injury among older adults. The researchers who analyzed the data from 1998-2010 found that among adults 65 and over there was an 8 percent increase in falls. That figure translates to a relative increase of nearly 30 percent.

Falling was defined by the researchers as at least one self-reported fall in the preceding two years.

“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,” said 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). “We saw a higher number of falls across all age groups—not just the oldest –and that was unexpected.”

Researchers analyzed statistics from adults in the Health and Retirement Study, which is conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research on behalf of the National Institute of Aging.

Despite the greater prevalence of reported falls, however, the study did not find that older adults were reporting more fall injuries, according to a news release from the University of Michigan

The researchers said further study is needed to identify possible reasons for the increase. One possible is an increase in fall risk factors such as medicines for heart disease and psychiatric disorders.

And, said Cigolle, “It’s possible that older adults are more aware of fall risk and may be more likely to report it now than before.

“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.”

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