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April 18, 1990

As Nation Grows Older, Falls Become Greater Source of Fear, Injury, Death

JAMA. 1990;263(15):2021. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440150011002

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A 2-YEAR-OLD tips over on a bicycle.

A skier takes a tumble on the slopes.

A clown goes flying on a banana peel.

But when an elderly person falls, the results may be more serious than a shed tear or a bruised ego and certainly are no laughing matter.

Despite the frequency with which falls occur in the elderly and the significant morbidity and mortality they produce, relatively little is known about how and why people fall and even less is known about how to prevent them. But, encouraged by new federal funding, researchers from a number of fields are starting to investigate ways to prevent falls and consequent injuries in the elderly.

Estimates of the annual incidence of falls in the elderly range from 20% to 40%. However, only 6% to 10% result in injury (Arch Intern Med. 1989;149: 2217-2222), most commonly fractures, but also soft-tissue injuries, hematomas, lacerations,