Rise in Fall Fatalities Worries Health Experts

by | Jan 24, 2014 | Personal Injury

Researchers at Stanford University have unearthed a disturbing trend: Fatalities from falls may soon surpass deaths from traffic crashes and firearms in the United States. In reporting on the study, painmedicinenews.com notes that the rising rate of fatal injuries in falls is likely the result of an aging population. Generally, older people are more at risk for serious injuries in falls.

For years, vehicle wrecks topped the list of causes of trauma mortality in the United States. However, safety innovations in the auto industry—such as electronic stability control, crash-avoidance technologies, back-up cameras, and the like—helped cut car crash deaths by 27% between 2002 and 2010. Motor vehicle collisions caused 12 deaths per 100,000 people in the United States in 2010.

Firearms are another significant cause of death, but the rate of gun deaths has remained relatively consistent since 2002. They accounted for about 10 deaths per 100,000 people in 2010.

Slip-and-fall accidents, on the other hand, nearly doubled over that period. Falls accounted for nine deaths per 100,000 people in 2010, up from six deaths per 100,000 in 2002.

Older People Most Vulnerable

The rise in deaths due to falls may lead to changes in emergency and trauma-related medical care. Emergency room doctors and hospital leaders must increasingly care for patients who are elderly or frail and are not good candidates for some types of medical treatments.

More than 26,000 people died as the result of unintentional falls in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reports that fall fatalities are on the rise are worrisome. According to the Pew Research Center, 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age every day, and this swell in the aging population will persist for at least 15 more years.

The CDC lists falls as a serious public health risk. Unintentional falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries for Americans over the age of 65, and one third of retirement-age adults suffer a falling accident each year. The cost of medical care and loss of income resulting from falls is enormous—$30 billion in 2010.

Safety Tips

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control offers these tips to help older adults avoid falls:

  • Keep the floors clear. Clear routes through rooms and move furniture if necessary. Consider putting area rugs out of the way. Pick up items on the floor and tuck away cords, wires, and cables.
  • Make sure stairways are safe. Loose carpeting or steps, items stacked on the stairs, and poor lighting are dangerous. Make sure handrails are intact and use the bannisters to guide you every time.
  • Keep the kitchen and bathroom floors clean and dry. Do not place items that you use regularly on high shelves. Install handrails for the shower and toilet if necessary.
  • Exercise. Physical activity increases balance, coordination, and flexibility, which help reduce the impact and likelihood of falling accidents. It is also good for your brain and helps you keep a positive attitude!
  • Wear shoes in the house so that you have plenty of traction.
  • Get routine eye examinations and corrective lenses if needed.
  • Use bright lighting in your home to increase visibility and avoid obstructions that might trip you.

Falls also are the cause of many workplace deaths. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that almost 20% of work-related fatalities in 2012 were in the construction sector, and falling accidents were the leading cause of death for construction workers. An OSHA publication explains fall protection laws and employer responsibilities in construction zones.