Over the time period between 2002 and 2022, the number and rate of fall-related deaths have increased. The 2019 Vermont death rate of 132.6 per 100,000 adults age 65 and older is significantly higher than that in 2002, as well as higher than the national rate of 63.3. In 2020 the rate of fall-related deaths increased 17% from 2019, but the difference is not statistically significant.
This indicator is part of our Healthy Vermonters 2020 data set which documents the health status of Vermonters at the start of the decade and the population health indicators and goals that will guide the work of public health through the next decade. For more information, see our Healthy Vermonters 2020 page.
Falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults. In fact, 1 in every 3 adults ages 65 and older fall each year. Some falls are minor, but others can result in serious injury, such as a broken hip or a head injury, as well as a loss of independence and mobility.
The population of Vermonters age 60 and older numbers 101,827 or about 1 in 6 Vermonters (Vermont Population Data). As the baby boomer generation ages, interest grows in living independently and staying active longer. An injury resulting from a fall, such as hip fracture or traumatic brain injury (TBI) can permanently disable or kill an otherwise healthy individual. Furthermore, the average cost of a hip fracture is $35,000 dollars for the hospital stay alone (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The use of EMS personnel to deliver interventions presents a novel opportunity to target individuals at risk who may not otherwise interact with the healthcare system, especially as many older adults are reluctant to discuss falls with providers or family.
Risk of falls increases with age but falls should not be considered an inevitable part of the aging process. Because there are many reasons an individual might fall, and these can act synergistically, falls prevention must be multifactorial and comprehensive.
Traditionally, the evidence base supports programming that includes early assessment, exercise, medication management, and safety within environmental design. Often those individuals at risk of falling (in this instance, defined as those Vermonters age 65 and older) experience: a fear of falling, limiting mobility which affects strength and stability, and medication which may cause drowsiness or impair balance. There has been a wealth of research on elderly falls prevention interventions that has been incorporated into a variety of evidenced based programming and strategies. We are working to more fully incorporate these strategies into Vermont’s community services and statewide systems.
Studies show that a combination of behavior changes can significantly reduce falls among older adults. Experts recommend:
The Vermont Department of Health (VDH) Falls Prevention Program helps older adults to improve their health, receive education and training, and find resources to prevent falls-related injuries and death. This program is housed within the Division of Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Injury Prevention. Through partnerships with community organizations, such as Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), Emergency Medical Service (EMS) agencies, and community hospitals and health care providers, VDH coordinates referrals for and trainings on evidenced-based falls prevention programs. VDH continues to build a multifactorial infrastructure focusing on screening and assessment, exercise and strength building, medication management and reconciliation, and home safety. Additionally, VDH is involved in Vermont’s state falls prevention coalition, Falls Free Vermont, which is a collaboration of key stakeholders and health care professionals committed to reducing preventable falls through building capacities related to networking, referral systems, and resources.
Falls prevention programs are available to Vermont older adults who:
Additionally, VDH serves community partners engaged in falls prevention work through offering resources, data, trainings, and facilitated discussions to staff.
Falls Prevention Screening and Assessment
Falls are preventable and not a normal part of aging. In the U.S., 1 in 4 older adults reported experiencing a fall and an older adult falls every second of every day throughout the country. While the risk of falls increases with age, less than half of older adults talk to their doctor about their fall. In Vermont, 1 in 3 adults ages 65 and older reported having a fall in the past year and falls are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the state.
VDH promotes the use of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries (STEADI) toolkit, which was created to help patients and health care providers with simple, evidenced-based tools through effective education materials, screening and assessment tools, and interventions that prevent falls-related injuries and deaths. Through collaborative partnerships and coordinated activities, VDH is working to build a sustainable statewide falls prevention program that promotes healthy aging and mitigates costly injuries for both older Vermonters and health care systems.
Indications of Progress through Data Collection
VDH uses various databases and data sources to track progress of the state’s falls prevention program. Through review and analysis of data on falls-related injuries and deaths, as well as the number of individuals screened, assessed, and referred to falls prevention programs, VDH continually evaluates this program to ensure there is improvement in health outcomes. The falls prevention program consistently seeks feedback from community members, health care providers, and partnering organizations to continue building a robust statewide falls prevention program.
Data is updated as it becomes available and timing may vary by data source. For more information about this indicator, see our Injury and Violence Prevention data notes.
This indicator is age-adjusted to the 2000 U.S. standard population. In U.S. data, age adjustment is used for comparison of regions with varying age breakdowns. In order to remain consistent with the methods of comparison at a national level, some statistics in Vermont were age adjusted. In cases where age adjustment was noted as being part of the statistical analysis, the estimates were adjusted based on the proportional age breakdowns of the U.S. population in 2000. For more detailed information see the CDC statistical notes on age adjustment.