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  • Rise in Fall Prevalence 'Exceeds What Would be Expected'

    The prevalence of self-reported falls among adults 65 and older is on the rise, and it's not just because of an aging American population, according to researchers who analyzed data collected from 1998 to 2010.

    Researchers anticipated that if increases in falls prevalence were found, they would be largely due to "changes in age structure of the population"—that is, more and more people getting older and older. What they found surprised them: while prevalence did increase across the board for adults 65 and older from 1998 to 2010, from 28.2% to 36.3%, the largest jumps in prevalence occurred in the lower age brackets.

    For adults age 65 to 69, falls prevalence increased by nearly 10 percentage points from 1998 to 2010, from 22.3% to 32%. The cohort of ages 70–74 experienced a similar increase, from 25.3% to 34.5%, as did the group aged 75–79, from 30.5% to 38.4%.

    After that however, the rates of increase start dropping off. For adults 80–84 years old, prevalence increased from 37.6% to 44.3%, while the 2 highest age groupings reported less than a single percentage point increase in prevalence. Researchers based their analysis on data obtained from the Health and Retirement Study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, which collects health information from more than 10,000 adults 65 and older every 2 years. The results were shared in a letter published online in the January 19 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.

    "Contrary to our hypothesis, we observed an increase in fall prevalence among older adults that exceeds what would be expected owing to the increasing age of the population," authors write.

    One possible explanation for the increased prevalence: better reporting, according to the authors. However, they write, "if a true increase in falling is occurring, then further research is needed to identify possible reasons, such as an increase in fall risk factors (eg, cardiovascular and psychiatric medications) or an increase in fall risk behavior."

    APTA provides education on exercise prescriptions for balance improvement and falls prevention, and offers other resources for physical therapists, such as how to develop consumer events on balance, falls, and exercise, and information on evidence-based falls programs. Members can also access an APTA pocket guide on falls risk reduction (.pdf).

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.


    • What is a self-reported fall? My friends and I will probably fall in the next two months because it is still ski season. should I report in now??

      Posted by Kathleen Clarke on 1/21/2015 7:03 PM

    • Another possible reason is that the Boomers as a group have been very reluctant to acknowledge their aging, and don't want to use an assistive device and "look old," thus increasing fall risk.

      Posted by Renee Cordrey -> =IX]AH on 1/21/2015 8:27 PM

    • I agree that the likely cause for the rise in falls for the "young old" is an increase in self-reporting. A self-reported fall is one that a patient has told their PCP, either by health history or because the patient was asked during a visit. If this is the case, I am encouraged that more practitioners are asking and talking about falls with their older patients. This is the good news with the bad.

      Posted by Judy Thackaberry on 1/21/2015 9:40 PM

    • Interesting question, Kathleen. Do they include falls during recreational sports that tend to have a high incidence of falls, such as skiing or ice skating? The increase in older adult participation in sports seems like it could play a role in the increase in fall prevalence of that's the case.

      Posted by Gunther Wolff on 1/24/2015 5:31 PM

    • I agree there is an increase in self reporting and activity participation of current "older" individuals. As there is an increased emphasis on decreasing falls I also believe that more practitioners are asking their patients if they have fallen within the past year. It appears that current "boomers" are remaining more active and are less inclined to curtail their activities because they are "aging" than people of previous generation. I am very aware that I participate in more high risk physical activities that my parents did not pursue when they were my age. (nearly 50). These include skiing (both downhill and cross country), backpacking, hiking, mountain biking, and running. I also agree with Renee who states that "Boomers as a group have been very reluctant to acknowledge their aging" but only in part. As someone in the tail end of the "Boomer" generation I feel I was taught to take care of myself and remain active. I would be interested in knowing the ratio of men to women with reported falls as well and how this compares to the past as there have been dramatic changes in gender expectations over the last 40 to 50 years. years.

      Posted by Lisa Leary -> CNW[ on 4/4/2015 6:59 PM

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