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Traumatic Brain Injuries Can Result From Senior Falls

Nearly 8,000 Deaths and 56,000 Hospitalizations in 2005

For Immediate Release: June 23, 2008


Contact: Gail Hayes, CDC, Injury Media Relations, (770) 488-4902



Traumatic brain injuries due to falls caused nearly 8,000 deaths and 56,000 hospitalizations in 2005 among Americans 65 and older, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in the June issue of the Journal of Safety Research.

Traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, are caused by a bump or blow to the head; however, they maybe missed or misdiagnosed among older adults. TBI often results in long-term cognitive, emotional, and/or functional impairments. In 2005, TBIs accounted for 50 percent of unintentional fall deaths and 8 percent of nonfatal fall-related hospitalizations among older adults.

Falls are not an inevitable consequence of aging, but they do occur more often among older adults because risk factors for falls are usually associated with health and aging conditions.  Some of these conditions include mobility problems due to muscle weakness or poor balance, loss of sensation in feet, chronic health conditions, vision changes or loss, medication side effects or drug interactions, and home and environmental hazards such as clutter or poor lighting.

“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,” said Dr. Ileana Arias, director of CDC′s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.  “These injuries can cause long-term problems and affect how someone thinks or functions.  They can also impact a person’s emotional well-being.”

Each year, one in three older Americans (65 and older) falls, and 30 percent of falls cause injuries requiring medical treatment. In 2005, nearly 16,000 older adults died from falls, 1.8 million older adults were treated in emergency departments, and 433,000 of these patients were hospitalized. Falls are the leading cause of injury deaths and nonfatal injuries for those 65 and over. 

This study analyzed 2005 data from the National Center for Health Statistics’ National Vital Statistics System and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality′s Nationwide Inpatient Sample.  Key findings are:

  • Death rates for fall-related TBIs were higher among men than women (26.9 per 100,000 and 17.8 per 100,000, respectively).
  • Rates for fall-related TBI hospitalizations were similar among men and women (146.3 per 100,000 and 158.3 per 100,000, respectively).
  • Death and hospitalization rates for fall-related TBIs generally increased with age.

Additional findings:

  • The majority of men and women hospitalized with a fall-related TBI spent two to six days in the hospital (54.9 percent of men; 61.5 percent of women).
  • The median total charges for these hospitalizations were $19,191 for men and $16,006 for women.

as more baby boomers reach retirement age, these types of injuries will increase demands on the health care system unless action is taken to prevent the injuries. “CDC has developed tips and suggestions for older adults, their caregivers, health care providers, and communities to help prevent falls,” Arias said.

For older adults, their children, caregivers, and health care providers, CDC recently developed the ‘Help Seniors Live Better, Longer: Prevent Brain Injury’ initiative. Developed in collaboration with 26 organizations, it features easy-to-use English- and Spanish-language materials in a concise question-and-answer format to help prevent, recognize, and respond to TBI. For more information and materials, visit www.cdc.gov/BrainInjuryInSeniors.

CDC has also created resources for practitioners and community-based organizations. Preventing Falls: What Works A CDC Compendium of Effective Community-based Interventions from Around the World and Preventing Falls: How to Develop Community Based Fall Prevention Programs for Older Adults can be downloaded or ordered at www.cdc.gov/ncipc/preventingfalls.

To access this article, please link to www.cdc.gov/injury. For information about the Journal of Safety Research, please link to www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00224375. The study citation is doi:10.1016/j.jsr.2008.05.001

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