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Elderly Fall Injuries Cost $20 Billion in 2006—and Price Is Rising

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, October 8, 2009

Three in 10 elderly patients who sought care in an emergency room after a fall were admitted to the hospital for treatment of their injuries, which was a major share of the $20 billion cost for treating falls in people over age 65 in 2006.

Since 2006, fall-related health costs are believed to have increased substantially because of a larger number of seniors suffering falls, and because of the higher costs of treating the fractures, open wounds, and head traumas they cause.

Those were two findings from a new report from the federal Agency for Health Research and Quality, which said that each year, about one-third of elderly adults experiences a fall. Falls are the most common cause of non-fatal injuries in the senior population.

"Because many falls are preventable and their impact on the U.S. healthcare system is significant, it is important to better understand the types of fall-related injuries experienced by elderly adults, particularly those injuries requiring treatment in an ED," wrote the authors Pamela Owens, C. Allison Russo, William Spector, and Ryan Muter, who are analysts for the agency.

Throughout the country, many healthcare systems are working on programs to help older people maintain their sense of balance, wear better shoes, and get more exercise to maintain muscle strength. Nevertheless, many older people don’t realize their increased vulnerability to fall-related injuries as they age.

Here are some highlights from the report:

  • Falls prompted 2.1 million elderly adults to seek care in emergency rooms in 2006, and accounted for one in 10 emergency visits among patients age 65 or older.
  • The cost of hospital care to treat fall-related injuries among seniors was $6.8 billion of the $20 billion in 2006.
  • Falls among women over age 84 were more frequent, one in seven, compared with falls among men over age 84, one in 10.
  • Fractures were the biggest reason for fall-related injuries among seniors, accounting for 41% of emergency room visits after a fall. Superficial injuries or contusions accounted for 22.6%, and open wounds 21.4%.
  • Hip fractures accounted for one in eight injurious emergency room visits among the elderly.
  • Those seniors who were admitted to the hospital for treatment due to a fall were more likely to be discharged to a long-term care facility than elderly patients admitted to the hospital for other conditions.
  • The cost of caring for elderly patients hospitalized because of fall-related injuries was on average higher than the cost of treating elderly patients admitted with other conditions, a difference between $10,800 and $9,900.

Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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