WNPR

Throughout New England, More Elderly Appear To Be Dying From Falls

Jun 26, 2018

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more Americans aged 65 and older are dying from falls. Over the last decade, Vermont and New Hampshire were the only states in New England that did not see an increase in fall-related deaths.

Each year, the CDC says about one in four Americans age 65 or older fall, which results in lots of emergency room trips -- about 3 million visits annually.

“Falls cause death. And people don’t realize that,” said Susan Sullivan Glenney, a physical therapist at UConn who works with older patients.

A recent CDC study said more older Americans are dying from injuries related to falls, noting the rate of deaths from falls among adults 65 and older increased more than 30 percent from 2007 to 2016.

The largest increases in New England were observed in Maine. Significant increases were also seen in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

Glenney said the CDC study demonstrates more older Americans need to be cautious about the causes of falls, which can include weaknesses, medications affecting balance, and one other item, which she said could be an easy fix.

“My biggest pet peeve is clutter,” Glenney said. “Things in your house that just shouldn’t really be there -- throw rugs, piles of things. People just say, ‘It’s always been there, I’ve never fallen.’ Well, tonight you might.”

George Kuchel, a geriatrician and director of UConn’s Center on Aging, said older Americans can feel threatened by falls.

“Falls can be what we call, ‘a warning sign.’ A sentinel of something else going on,” Kuchel said. “Older adults are often so worried about losing independence that they’ll tend to hide deficits.”

In its report, the CDC said falls and fall prevention should be discussed during annual wellness visits with patients.

Susan Sullivan Glenney said during a fall, the best thing to do is protect the head.

“The better thing to do, though, is to prevent the fall in the first place,” Glenney said. “Use an assistive device if you need it. Do things to improve your balance, remove the fall risks in the house, check your meds.”

Meanwhile, the CDC reports the population of older Americans is increasing. It says longer survival times following illnesses like heart disease and cancer could be contributing to the rising rate of deaths from falls.