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Senior Falls Can Lead to Brain Injury

MONDAY June 23, 2008 -- In 2005, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) due to falls resulted in nearly 8,000 deaths and 56,000 hospitalizations among Americans age 65 and older, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

TBIs accounted for 50 percent of all unintentional fall deaths and 8 percent of nonfatal fall-related hospitalizations among older adults.

As people age, their risk of falling increases due to a number of factors such as mobility problems due to muscle weakness or poor balance, loss of sensation in feet, chronic health problems, vision changes or loss, medication side effects or drug interactions, and domestic hazards such as clutter and poor lighting, according to background information in the study.

"Most people think older adults may only break their hip when they fall, but our research shows that traumatic brain injuries can also be a serious consequence. These injuries can cause long-term problems and affect how someone thinks or functions. They can also impact a person's emotional well-being," Dr. Ileana Arias, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said in a prepared statement.

TBIs, caused by a blow or bump to the head, may be missed or misdiagnosed among older adults.

In this study, researchers analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics' National Vital Statistics System and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Nationwide Inpatient Sample.

Among the findings:

  • Men had higher fall-related TBI death rates than women -- 26.9 per 100,000 vs. 17.8 per 100,000.
  • The rate of fall-related TBI hospitalization for men was 146.3 per 100,000, compared to 158.3 per 100,000 for women.
  • Death and hospitalization rates for fall-related TBIs generally increased with age.
  • Most men (54.9 percent) and women (61.5 percent) hospitalized with a fall-related TBI spent two to six days in hospital.
  • The median charges for these hospitalizations were $19,191 for men and $16,006 for women.

The study was published in the June issue of the Journal of Safety Research.

As more baby boomers reach retirement age, the increasing number of fall-related TBIs will become more of a burden on the health care system unless action is taken to prevent such injuries, Arias said.

In the United States, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths and nonfatal injuries for people 65 and older. Each year, about one in three Americans age 65 and older suffers a fall, and 30 percent of falls cause injuries that require medical treatment. In 2005, nearly 16,000 older adults in the United States died from falls, 1.8 million were treated in emergency departments, and 433,000 were hospitalized.

More information

The CDC has more about preventing brain injuries in seniors.

Posted: June 2008


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