MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings of the study?
Dr. Stevens: The fall death rate among persons aged 65 and older has been increasing rapidly. We used vital statistics data to examine the circumstances and contributing conditions to fall deaths.
We found that of 21,649 fall deaths in 2010, the largest proportion (35%) occurred from falling on the same level, followed by falling on stairs or steps (6.5%). From 1999 to 2010, there was a trend toward more specific reporting of falls circumstances. However, information about the circumstances of 49% of the 2010 fall deaths was not available.
In 2010, 49% of fall deaths involved a head injury and 30% involved a hip fracture. The most important contributing causes to fall deaths were circulatory diseases, especially hypertension, and respiratory diseases.
Factors that may partially explain the rapid increase in the fall death rate include changing trends in the death rates for underlying chronic diseases strongly associated with falls, such as reductions in cardiovascular disease deaths, as well as better reporting on death certificates of falls as the underlying cause of death.
MedicalResearch.com: Were any of the findings unexpected?
Dr. Stevens: We expected to find that fall-related traumatic brain injury, which has been increasing, would be largely responsible for the increasing fall death rates. However, our study results did not support this.
MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Stevens: Health care professionals should be aware that people with cardiovascular diseases, especially hypertension, are at increased risk of falling. Medications such as beta blockers and thiazide diuretics also increase fall risk. Carefully monitoring patients and addressing gait and balance problems through referrals to physical therapy or community exercise programs can reduce these patients’ fall risk.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Stevens: The fall death rate in older adults and the number of older adults at risk of falling are both increasing. More research is needed to better understand the factors driving the increasing fall death rate. Research is also needed to find ways to improve dissemination and uptake by clinicians, community organizations and older adults of existing evidence-based fall prevention interventions.