Scope of the problem: Fall-related injuries are the leading cause of injury deaths and disabilities among older adults (i.e., persons aged > or = 65 years). The most serious fall injury is hip fracture; one half of all older adults hospitalized for hip fracture never regain their former level of function. In 1996, a total of 340,000 hospitalizations for hip fracture occurred among persons aged > or = 65 years, and 80% of these admissions occurred among women. From 1988 to 1996, hip fracture hospitalization rates for women aged > or = 65 years increased 23%.
Etiologic or risk factors: Risk factors for falls include increasing age, muscle weakness, functional limitations, environmental hazards, use of psychoactive medications, and a history of falls. Age is also a risk factor for hip fracture. Women aged > or = 85 years are nearly eight times more likely than women aged 65-74 years to be hospitalized for hip fracture. White women aged > or = 65 years are at higher risk for hip fracture than black women. Other riskfactors for hip fracture include lack of physical activity, osteoporosis, low body mass index, and a previous hip fracture.
Recommendations for prevention: Because approximately 95% of hip fractures result from falls, minimizing fall risk is a practical approach to reducing these serious injuries. Research demonstrates that effective fall prevention strategies require a multifaceted approach with both behavioral and environmental components. Important elements include education and skill building to increase knowledge about fall risk factors, exercise to improve strength and balance, home modifications to reduce fall hazards, and medication assessment to minimize side effects (e.g., dizziness and grogginess).
Program and research needs: Coordination needs to be improved among the diverse Federal, state, and local organizations that conduct fall prevention activities. The effectiveness of existing fall prevention programs among specific groups of women (e.g., those aged > or = 85 years or living with functional limitations) needs careful evaluation. New primary fall prevention approaches are needed (e.g., characterizing footwear that promotes stability), as well as secondary prevention strategies (e.g., protective hip pads) that can prevent injuries when falls occur. Finally, efforts are needed to increase collaboration among national experts from various disciplines, to reach consensus regarding priority research areas and program issues, and to work toward long-term strategies for reducing falls and fall-related injuries among older adults.
Conclusion: Persons aged > or = 65 years constitute the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. Without effective intervention strategies, the number of hip fractures will increase as the U.S. population ages. Fall prevention programs have reduced falls and fall-related injuries among high-risk populations using multifaceted approaches that include education, exercise, environmental modifications, and medication review. These programs need to be evaluated among older adults aged > or = 65 years who are living independently in the community. In addition, secondary prevention strategies are needed to prevent hip fractures when falls occur. Effective public health strategies need to be implemented to promote behavioral changes, improve current interventions, and develop new fall prevention strategies to reduce future morbidity and mortality associated with hip fractures among older adults.