What reporters should know about falls in older adults

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College in New York City, and co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Photo: Tori Barratt Crane via Flickr

Photo: Tori Barratt Crane via Flickr

Comedians Chevy Chase and Dick Van Dyke are famous for their pratfalls. Their younger selves could take a tumble and easily bounce back up, no harm done. But, at ages 73 and 91 respectively, falls are no laughing matter.

The consequences of a serious fall can be devastating – from broken bones to immobility to death. In November, iconic singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, 82, died from what his manager said were the aftereffects of a fall.

Falls may occur for many medical reasons, from visual impairment to muscle weakness to a sudden drop in blood pressure. They are the leading cause of accidental death, and the seventh leading cause of death in people age 65 or over. Falling once when you’re older doubles your chances of falling again, according to the CDC.

As Mark Taylor points out in this new tip sheet, it is important to be aware of fall hazards. Whether they result in injury or not, falls can adversely impact an older person’s quality of life. The National Council on Aging says that fear of falling leads to limiting activities or social interaction. In turn, that can lead to further physical decline, depression, social isolation and feelings of helplessness.

However, as Taylor notes, falls are not an inevitable part of old age. His tip sheet can help journalists cover the issue in their market, with ideas and strategies for fall prevention, resources and links to some interesting studies about fall interventions.

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