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Lieberman dies of fall complications, a common injury for older adults

Light from a stained glass window illuminates a program at the Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Connecticut, during Senator Joe Lieberman’s funeral service.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Light from a stained glass window illuminates a program at the Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Connecticut, during Senator Joe Lieberman’s funeral service.

Former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman died last week following complications from a fall, according to his family. He was 82.

Across the United States, falls are an expensive and alarmingly common injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About one-in-four Americans age 65 and older report falling every year. That makes falls the leading cause of injury-related death in this population. Meanwhile, the fall death rate is increasing, according to the CDC.

Falls are the most common reasons for ER visits and hospitalization among older adults, said Dr. Mary Tinetti, a geriatrician and professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine.

“If you actually put the frequency of falling, plus the possibility of a bad injury such as a hip fracture or traumatic brain injury, it's really as common a public health problem as strokes and heart attacks,” she said.

Falls are also more costly than most people may realize, she said.

Each year, about $50 billion is spent on medical costs related to falls in older adults, according to the CDC.

Connecticut is the most expensive state to fall in, according to a study by Brooks Rehabilitation based on CDC data. Direct medical costs from one non-fatal fall amount to roughly $12,698 in Connecticut, well above the national average of $9,652.

New York and Rhode Island follow Connecticut in having the second and third-highest cost of falls nationally at $11,923 and $11,199.

As America’s population continues to age, the number of falls and the associated costs to treat them are expected to grow, according to the CDC.

But falls, and associated medical costs, can also raise equity concerns, Tinetti said.

“There's people in this country that can't afford to get sick at all,” Tinetti said. “I don't put falls in any different category than any other health problem. But the ability to both get the acute care in the hospital plus the ability to afford care afterwards, definitely is a problem with equity.”

While the statistics are eye-opening, most falls result in no injuries, or minor injuries, and the fear of falling shouldn’t stop older adults from being active, Tinetti said.

Measures people can take to reduce the risk of falls include reviewing medications, especially blood pressure medication, with a physician, she said. Fall-proofing your house by removing tripping hazards like cords and rugs and equipping night lights is another step to take.

“The things to think about are, are you safe ... moving around getting up and walking?” Tinetti said. “If you're not, then you should ask your clinician to refer you to physical therapy that will work on strength and balance. Get a cane or a walker that gives you extra support.”

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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