The NCSL Blog

27

By Samantha Scotti

Each year, 1 in 3 older adults—those over 65 years of age—will fall.

Most people know of an older loved one, friend, acquaintance or relative who has been seriously injured as a result of a fall.

These injuries can vary in severity from minor bruising to fractures or even traumatic brain injuries (TBI). In fact, in 2013, TBI caused about half of the 25,500 older adult fall-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Falls can diminish independence, lead to economic hardships and cause long-term health issues. In 2013, 2.5 million older adults were treated for nonfatal falls. Direct medical costs associated with falls average $34 billion annually. 

That doesn't include costs associated with long-term services and supports (LTSS)—such as help with dressing and bathing, housework and other daily activities—as a result of their fall.  Long-term services and support can be expensive for the individual and for health care payers. 

For example, LTSS accounted for 74 percent of all Medicaid spending on the elderly in 2009. As the leading cause of nonfatal injuries in older adults, falls contribute to these LTSS costs.

Over the last decade, legislatures have enacted various policies aimed at reducing the emotional and economic burden of falls among older adults.

State legislatures in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Washington have established statewide initiatives to identify the causes of falls among older adults while striving to reduce the overall frequency of falls. California’s legislation specifically addresses osteoporosis as a cause of falls while implementing preventive measures throughout the community.

Other states, such as Oregon, have appropriated funds to train caregivers and seniors about fall prevention methods they can incorporate into their daily activities.

Minnesota created training requirements for personnel who work closely with older adults at risk of falling to help prevent falls. To view state actions from the 2015 legislative session, visit NCSL’s Injury Prevention Database.

When older adults sustain injuries from a fall, it affects their health and well-being. Research supports that legislative, community and personal actions can reduce the risk and decrease the frequency of falls among older adults. Policymakers interested in learning more about prevention can visit NCSL’s elderly fall informational site and the CDC Injury Center’s STEADI site. The STEADI initiative (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injury) provides health care professionals with the tools to screen, assess and manage their patient’s fall risk using proven fall prevention methods.

Samantha Scotti is a research analyst who covers older adult falls and other long-term care issues.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.