Last Updated: 2008-03-06 12:00:23 -0400 (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that 5.8 million adults, 65 years and older, fell at least once in 2006, and for 1.8 million of these individuals, the resulting injury required a doctor visit or restricted activity.

"The effect these injuries have on the quality of life of older adults and on the US healthcare system reinforces the need for broader uses of scientifically proven fall-prevention interventions," Dr. J. A. Stevens and colleagues from the CDC emphasize in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for March 7. According to the report, one of the most effective interventions is exercise.

Prior research suggests that about one-third of older adults fall each year, and the risk markedly increases with advancing age. In 2005, nearly 16,000 fatal falls were reported among older adults.

There has been limited information, however, regarding the occurrence of falls that do not cause injury or cause only minor damage that can be managed in a physician’s office or a clinic.

To gauge the full public health burden caused by falls in older adults, the CDC researchers analyzed data from the 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey.

The survey, which was conducted in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and in selected US territories, included two questions about falls: "In the past 3 months, how many times have you fallen?" and "How many of these falls caused an injury?" An injury was defined as damage that necessitated a doctor visit or limitation in regular activities for at least one day.

Almost 16% of adults surveyed reported falling at least once and roughly a third of those who fell sustained an injury. The average number of falls per person was 1.9 with a range between 0 and 76.

Men and women had a similar likelihood of falling with rates of 15.2% and 16.4%, respectively. However, women were significantly more likely than men to sustain an injury from their falls: 35.7% vs. 24.6%.

Vermont had the highest rate of falls at 20.1%, while Hawaii had the lowest at 12.8%, the report indicates. The highest and lowest rates of falls causing injury were 48.0% and 23.7% in Rhode Island and Nebraska, respectively.

"Modifiable fall risk factors include muscle weakness, gait and balance problems, poor vision, use of psychoactive medications, and home hazards," the report concludes. "Most effective (fall prevention) interventions focus on exercise, alone or as a part of a multi-faceted approach that includes medication management, vision correction, and home modifications."

Mor Mortal Wkly Rep CDC Surveill Summ 2008;57:225-229.

Copyright Reuters 2008. Click for Restrictions