Falls Cause Most Accidental Deaths in Elderly Americans

Megan Brooks

May 07, 2015

Unintentional injuries account for the vast majority (85%) of all injury-related deaths among older Americans, according to a new data brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

During 2012-2013, 90,640 adults aged 65 years or older died from unintentional injuries and 55% of these injury deaths were due to falls. From 2000-2013, the age-adjusted fall injury death rate among the elderly nearly doubled, from 29.6 to 56.7 per 100,000, report NCHS investigators Ellen Kramarow, PhD, and colleagues.

"Fatal falls among the older population may be increasing for many reasons. Some research suggests that at least a portion of this increase is due to improved reporting of falls," they note.

The five leading causes of unintentional injury deaths in US adults aged 65 years or older are falls, motor vehicle traffic accidents, suffocation, poisoning, and fire.

In 2012-2013, 14% of unintentional injury deaths in this age group were due to motor vehicle accidents, resulting in more than 6000 deaths per year. The death rate from motor vehicle traffic crashes was 1.7 times higher in nonmetropolitan areas compared with that in metropolitan areas.

Suffocation, including deaths from positional asphyxia and choking on food or other objects, was the third leading cause of unintentional injury death, accounting for 8% of deaths, followed by poisoning (4%) and fire (2%). The death rate due to fire in adults aged 65 years or older was more than twice as high for non-Hispanic blacks as for non-Hispanic white and Hispanic adults.

From 2000 to 2013, the age-adjusted death rate for all unintentional injuries among those aged 65 years or older has increased by 15%, although the rates for some causes have trended down, the investigators say. Motor vehicle traffic accidents as a cause of death among adults aged 65 years or older decreased, as they have for younger people, from a rate of 20.6 deaths per 100,000 in 2000 to 14.3 per 100,000 in 2013. Age-adjusted death rates for unintentional poisonings and falls have increased, however.

The findings stem from a review of data from the National Vital Statistics System.

"Injury deaths place a large burden on society, and many of these deaths are preventable," Dr Kramarow and colleagues note in their article. "Reducing fatal injuries is a Healthy People 2020 Leading Health Indicator, emphasizing its importance as a high-priority public health issue."

NCHS Data Brief 199. Full Text


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