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Don’t underestimate the danger of your mom or dad falling

The New York Times weekend before last examined the increasing incidence of falls among the elderly that are causing serious injuries and even death:

As the population ages and people live longer in bad shape, the number of older Americans who fall and suffer serious, even fatal, injuries is soaring. So the retirement communities, assisted living facilities and nursing homes where millions of Americans live are trying to balance safety and their residents’ desire to live as they choose….

The dangers are real. The number of people over 65 who died after a fall reached nearly 24,000 in 2012, the most recent year for which fatality numbers are available — almost double the number 10 years earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And more than 2.4 million people over 65 were treated in emergency departments for injuries from falls in 2012 alone, an increase of 50 percent over a decade. All told, in the decade from 2002-2012, more than 200,000 Americans over 65 died after falls. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in that age group.

Aging Solutions’ gerontologist, Diane LeVan, who specializes in creating safe living environments for the aging, adds a few more useful details.”Even if a person’s fall is not life-threatening, it can often start a downward spiral of fear that leads to inactivity and decreased strength, agility, and balance. A non-fatal fall is often the precipitating event for subsequent long-term care and institutionalization,” says LeVan.

A person who has one fall will likely fall again in the future, LeVan. In addition, elderly women are more likely than men to fall.

The New York Times story is well worth reading, and there are a couple of hundred readers’ responses and anecdotes at the end of the first part of the series, recounting their own, sometimes devastating, experience with falls in their families.

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