October 2021
By, Robin Lee PhD MPH, Acting Branch Chief – Applied Sciences National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Division of Injury Prevention Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Talking about falls doesn’t imply you have to stop doing the things you enjoy. Talking about falls can help preserve your independence.

Falls are common among adults 65 and older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 36 million older adult falls occur each year—resulting in about 3 million emergency department visits, 950,000 hospitalizations, and 34,000 deaths. While falls are common, there are many evidence-based strategies to prevent falls. However, less than 50% of older adults speak to a healthcare provider about falling.

When I spoke to my mother, now age 79, about fall risk she said, “I am active. I don’t need to worry about falling.” While she is active, she fell in the past year, injured her knee, and required physical therapy. Falling once puts her at higher risk for a future, more serious fall. She also takes multiple medications that could make her dizzy—which increases her chances of falling. I explained that now is a good time to talk to her doctor about fall risk. Talking about falls doesn’t mean you have to stop doing the things you enjoy, rather, it’s the first step in preserving your ability to continue doing them. 

Over the past decade, CDC has developed an age-friendly approach that encourages healthcare providers to talk to their older patients about fall risk. CDC’s Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries or STEADI initiative is based on established clinical guidance on the prevention of falls in older adults. Screening older patients and those at high risk at least once a year, is the first step. The second step is to assess the patient’s modifiable fall risk factors and their fall history. The third step is to intervene to reduce the patient’s identified risk factors using evidence-based strategies. For example, older adults with poor balance may benefit from interventions like physical therapy or a community-based program (e.g., tai chi). While others may need a comprehensive medication review and patients with vision impairment may need prescription lenses.

Assessing these risk factors and making referrals for evidence-based interventions can help older adults maintain their health and reduce injuries as they age. In May, CDC launched the Still Going Strong campaign. This campaign reinforces these messages and offers tips on how older adults and caregivers can prevent common injuries.

Fall prevention requires a comprehensive approach that encourages frequent and open communication among older adults, their caregivers, and their healthcare providers. Working as a team, we can reduce the number of falls, fall injuries, and fall deaths in older adults.

September Posting: What’s Public Health Got To Do With… Collaboration?