There’s some troubling news on the health front for older Americans. More and more seniors are being seriously injured, and even killed, by falling. In fact, you could say that falling has almost reached epidemic proportions among America’s elderly.
The statistics tell a very sad story. In 1999, about 10,100 Americans aged 65 or more were killed by falling. In 2020, among the same demographic, that number had increased significantly, to 36,500 deaths. In part, that increase is due to the fact that there are more elderly Americans, as the Baby Boom generation ages, but the fall rate is increasing, too: from 29 fall-related deaths per 100,000 seniors in 1990 to 69 fall-related deaths per 100,000 in 2020. Fall-related death rates rose across every gender and ethnic group, with the highest death rate–78 per 100,000–among older white Americans.
Although statistics are hard to determine, because seniors don’t always ‘fess up to their kids or their doctors when they take a tumble, experts believe that the rate of non-fatal falls is increasing, too. The CDC estimates that about 25 percent of all seniors take a fall each year, with 3 million visiting the emergency room and more than 800,000 having to be hospitalized for head injuries, broken hips, or other debilitating injuries.
Why are more older Americans falling, and suffering the consequences? Experts think it is due to a combination of factors, including the fact that more Americans are surviving serious health conditions, like strokes, that leave them less steady on their feet. Another cause is that more of our elderly are taking multiple medications that, in combination, can affect balance or cause dizziness. I suspect that part of the problem, too, is that some seniors just aren’t moving around as much as they should and, as a result, their balance, reflexes, and nerve impulses aren’t providing the movement support and signals they once did.
In short, there’s a reason why my doctor introduced a “gait test” for me once I hit 65. If you’re a senior, making sure that you continue to be physically active, and that you (and your doctor) pay attention to the combined effects of your medication, can help you to avoid one of those killer falls. And it doesn’t make sense to be too proud to talk about any dizziness or balance issues. If you feel you might need grab bars, you should get them.