Elderly fall statistics 2024

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an elderly man on the floor being helped by a caregiver

“I've fallen, and I can't get up!” — a catchphrase from decades past and a trademark for a successful medical alert provider, the words nevertheless point to a significant and growing issue facing older adults today. About a quarter of those who are 65 years of age or older are expected to fall this year. More than 14 million older adults reported falling in 2020, and nearly 39,000 died as a result of falls in 2021. Seniors who recover from a fall are more likely to fall again.

Key insights

Over a quarter of adults ages 65 and over fall each year. They may not require medical attention at the time, but every fall breeds subsequent falls — doubling the chance of falling again.

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Some older adults are more likely to fall than others. Fall risk increases with age, and women fall more often than men. American Indians and Alaska Natives fall more frequently than other ethnic groups.

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Falls are common throughout the U.S., but a few states, including Illinois, Idaho, California, Mississippi, Nebraska and New York, have managed to lower their fall rate in recent years.

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Falling is the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for the elderly. Looking at the top causes of death among older adults, unintentional injury-related falls rank eighth.

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Falling among the elderly is increasingly costly. At $70.79 billion, overall medical costs for unintentional falls by older adults in 2021 show a 41.4% increase from 2015. Medicare and Medicaid bear the brunt of these costs, impacting the economic health of those programs.

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After factoring in costs of work lost, diminished quality of life and, in the case of fatal falls, years of life unlived, total costs approach a staggering $676 billion.

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There are many reasons for older adult falls. Some are fixed, but others may be remedied. Falling is not an inevitable part of aging.

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Elderly fall statistics

Baby boomers, the estimated 55.8 million people born after World War II, are becoming part of the U.S. population ages 65 and over at the rate of about 10,000 people a day. By 2030, every individual from this generation will be at least 65 years old. Each second of each day, a member of that cohort suffers a fall, making falls the leading cause of injuries — fatal and nonfatal — among them.

Although more than 25% of older adults fall each year, less than half inform their doctor of such incidents. Unfortunately, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) efforts to engage primary care physicians and other health care providers in its massive, multipronged STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries) initiative are likely to bypass this group. Falling once, even without an injury that requires medical attention, doubles a person’s chance of falling again. The fear of falling may also trigger a reduction in everyday activities. Inactivity causes weakness, which in turn increases the likelihood of falling again.

The economic impact of falls among older adults is staggering. Considering medical expenses alone, the following statistics stand out:

  • In 2021, the average treat-and-release emergency room visit after an older adult fell unintentionally cost $8,869. There were 1,829,971 such visits that year.
  • The average hospitalization after a fall cost $53,889 in 2021. Nationwide, 984,188 older adults were hospitalized after their unintentional fall.
  • Medical costs for the 38,742 fall-related deaths in 2021 among U.S. seniors averaged $39,140 for each occurrence.

Aside from the appreciable economic toll, falls come with deeply personal costs that impact older adults’ quality of life. Falls result in reduced mobility, poorer physical fitness, decreased independence and fewer social interactions.

The U.S. population is aging as the baby boomer generation matures — the 65 and older population grew by 34.6% during the previous decade alone and is climbing steadily. A recent survey showed the majority of this population wishes to live in a community that enables them to age in place. It is no surprise, then, that the problem of older adult falls represents a significant public health concern.

Statistics from the past 10 years reflect the growing problem. An estimated 29 million falls among older adults were reported in 2014. By 2018, the figures had escalated: 27.5% of the older adult population reported at least one fall during the past year. The number of falls reached approximately 35.6 million, an increase of 6.6 million falls or 22.76% in just four years.

Despite prevention efforts nationally and locally, the CDC projects older adult falls in 2030 will number 52 million, causing 12 million fall-related injuries.

  • In 2015, the total cost of fatal and nonfatal fall injuries was $50 billion.
  • The cost of treating injuries by falls is projected to increase to over $101 billion by 2030.

Elderly fall demographics

The CDC considers all older adults at risk for falls, but some groups are more likely to fall than others.

Falls by gender

Older women fall more frequently than older men, but the latter die more often when injured by a fall. The fall-related death rate among men and women is 91.4 and 68.3 per 100,000, respectively. The following percentages indicate older adult falls by gender

Falls by age group

Among all older adults, the oldest groups reported falls more frequently. The mortality rate for falls also increases dramatically with age regardless of gender or race/ethnicity. According to the CDC, the percentage of people from each age group reporting a fall yielded the following results:

Falls by race and ethnicity

Among the ethnic groups surveyed in 2014, those identifying as American Indian/Alaska Native had the highest fall-related injury rates. In 2018, the CDC reported those rates as follows:

  • Asian/Pacific Islander: 16%
  • Black or African American: 23%
  • Hispanic or Latino: 28%
  • White: 28%
  • American Indian/Alaska Native: 32%

A 2019/2020 study published by the Indian Health Service indicated that individuals ages 75 years and older identifying as American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) have had the highest fall injury and death rates since the 1990s, with a rate averaging 1.4 to 2 times the rate of people identifying as white.

The National Indian Council on Aging suggests that a high rate of Type 2 diabetes among the American Indian and Alaska Native population, along with a high rate of other chronic illnesses, might be a contributing factor.

Number of falls by state

Older adult falls are common throughout the U.S., but the percentage of the 65-and-older population who fall varies.

Comparing data from 2020 to previous years encouragingly reveals the top states where such falls have decreased significantly.

States with the largest decrease in reported senior falls from 2012-2020

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Fall injury and death statistics

Falling is the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for elderly people ages 65 and older. Among the top causes of death among older adults, unintentional injury-related falls rank eighth.

Nonfatal falls

An estimated 2,890,680 seniors were treated in hospital emergency departments for unintentional nonfatal fall-related injuries in 2021. Among older adults surviving a fall:

  • Twenty percent suffer a fracture, head injury or other serious consequence. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Elderly patients with traumatic head injuries are more likely to die or require long-term care than younger patients with similar injuries.
  • Over 800,000 elderly patients are hospitalized annually due to fall injuries.

At least 300,000 patients ages 65 and older are treated every year for hip fractures, and over 95% of such fractures are caused by falls, particularly sideways falls. Women fall more often than men and have osteoporosis more frequently, a condition that weakens bones and makes them break more easily. As such, it is not surprising that women experience 75% of hip fractures, and recovery from this type of fracture can be difficult.

Falling among older adults is costly. In 2015, medical costs for older adult falls reached over $50 billion. Regarding these costs, the following breakdown exists:

  • Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of the costs.
    • Medicare paid $29 billion.
    • Medicaid paid $9 billion.
    • Private or out-of-pocket individuals paid $12 billion.
  • Fatal injury costs total $754 million, while the remainder covered nonfatal fall injury expenses.

At $70.79 billion, overall medical costs for unintentional falls by older adults in 2021 show a 41.4% increase from 2015. Further dissection of 2021 data reveals the following:

For the 1.83 million fall-related emergency room visits after which the patient was released:

  • The average medical cost per visit was $8,869.
  • The medical cost for all treat-and-release events totalled $16.23 billion.

For the 984,188 fall-related nonfatal hospitalizations:

  • The average medical cost per hospitalization was $53,889.
  • The medical cost for all hospitalizations was $53.04 billion.

For the 38,742 unintentional fall-related deaths:

  • The average cost of medical treatment was $39,140. 
  • The medical cost for fall-related deaths was $1.52 billion.

Factor in computations for work lost, diminished quality of life and years of life unlived and the total cost soars to just shy of $676 billion.

Fatal falls

Falling is the leading cause of injury-related deaths among elderly people. Between 2012 and 2021, the fall death rate for this cohort increased by 41%, from 55.3 per 100,000 older adults to 78 per 100,000 older adults.

The fall-related death rate varies considerably among states, from 30.7 per 100,000 older adults in Alabama to 176.5 per 100,000 in Wisconsin.

The overwhelming trend has been upward with time. When comparing 2012 and 2021 per-capita fall-related death rates, notable findings include the following:

  • Maine (+80.6), Wisconsin (+65.6) and West Virginia (+64.8) show the greatest increases.
  • Arkansas (-1.2) and Nebraska (-0.9) display slight decreases.
  • New Mexico (90.8) rates remain unchanged.

Falling data by year

According to Dr. Jeremy Fogelson, a neurosurgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, older adults are more likely to fall during the winter and at greater risk when they do fall. An unsteady gait, lessened bone strength and reduced flexibility coupled with icy outdoor surfaces are contributory factors to increased fall frequency. Physiological factors that increase the severity of injury among seniors include:

  • Brain blood vessels that are more fragile and bleed more easily
  • Brittle bones
  • Arthritic spines that are less flexible and more likely to damage the spinal cord when they break

Fatal falls

Data indicates that weather conditions may also influence fall-related deaths among the older population. The months of October, November, December, January and, to some extent, March show somewhat higher numbers of unintentional fall-related deaths than during the rest of the year.

Since 2018, generally upward trends are found in the number of fatal senior falls.

Nonfatal falls

A general increase in the number and rates of falls among older adults might have been expected given the increasing number of people ages 65-plus in the population as a whole. Looking at data for nonfatal unintentional falls resulting in emergency department visits — and considering the COVID-19 pandemic’s potential effect on such emergency room visits — figures from 2018 through 2021 echo the trend.

Nonfatal emergency department visits by seniors for an unintentional fall by year

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Among seniors, increasing age means increasing susceptibility to falls. As seen below, the rate of fall-related emergency room visits jumps dramatically for those 85 and older.

Nonfatal emergency department visits by seniors for an unintentional fall by age

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Fall prevention efforts

In 2012, the CDC launched its STEADI initiative to enable health care providers to integrate older adult fall prevention into their practice. STEADI offers tools to:

  • identify patients at risk for falling
  • find risk factors that may be modified
  • implement effective strategies to reduce risk
  • link patients to evidence-based community fall prevention programs

By 2017, the CDC had already distributed more than 2.5 million print resources nationwide and promoted the concept using its own website and those of partner organizations, email, social media, newsletters and conferences and other events. Webpage downloads for STEADI materials exceeded 177,000 in 2016 alone.

The “CDC Compendium of Effective Fall Interventions: What Works for Community-Dwelling Older Adults”28 is a 255-page collection of effective interventions for use by health care and senior services providers seeking to reduce falls among the seniors they serve. The collection details the following:

  • Seventeen evidence-based exercise interventions
  • Five home modification programs
  • Twelve clinical pathways
  • Sixteen programs that address more than one risk factor and take a multifaceted approach

A network of state coalitions is also in place, dating back to the Falls Free® National Action Plan, released in 2005. That plan outlined goals, strategies and action steps for community partners. It sought to increase the mobility of older adults and improve their safety at home and in the community. It further expanded on the use of risk screening, assessment and interventions to prevent falls. The National Council on Aging’s National Falls Prevention Resource Center coordinates the implementation of the plan, which was updated in 2015. As a result, State Falls Prevention Coalitions are active in 38 states and in development in 10 more, including Washington, D.C.

FAQ

How prevalent is falling among seniors?

Over 25% of older adults fall each year. Older women fall more frequently than men. Among all older adults, the oldest groups have higher fall rates. Twenty-six percent of those between the ages of 65 to 74, 29% of those 75 to 84 and 34% of those 85 and older report falling.

Where do most falls occur?

Among older adults, the majority (71.6%) of falls requiring emergency room medical attention occur indoors and predominantly at home (79.2%) versus away (20.8%). The most common locations for a fall at home are the bedroom, bathroom and stairs. There is also a difference in fall locations between men and women: Men fall more frequently outside (38.3%) than women do. (28.4%).

What causes falls among the older adult population?

Many things can cause an older adult to fall, including:

  • Diminished eyesight, hearing or reflexes
  • Medical conditions, like diabetes and heart disease, that may affect balance
  • Situations, like incontinence, that invite rushed movement
  • Mild cognitive impairment; some types of dementia
  • Age-related muscle mass loss (sarcopenia)
  • Blood pressure that drops substantially with a change of position
  • Gait or balance difficulties
  • Foot pain; unsuitable footwear
  • Medications with effects that include dizziness or confusion; multiple medications
  • Environmental safety hazards, such as clutter, throw rugs or poor lighting
Is falling a natural consequence of aging?

The fact that falling is not a natural consequence of aging is the basis of a nationwide effort by government agencies, community organizations and health care providers to prevent falls by older adults. Developed by the CDC, STEADI seeks to educate health care providers, caregivers and seniors about evidence-based methods to mitigate fall risk. STEADI provides tools to screen individuals who are at risk of falling, identify risk factors that may be modified for those individuals and implement effective interventions.


References

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  3. “Where We Live, Where We Age: Trends in Home and Community Preferences.” AARP. Evaluated March 17, 2024.Link Here
  4. Caplan, Z. “2020 Census: 1 in 6 People in the United States Were 65 and Over.” U.S. Census Bureau. Evaluated March 31, 2024.Link Here
  5. “Keep on Your Feet - Preventing Older Adult Falls.” CDC. Evaluated March 15, 2024.Link Here
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