More older Australians hospitalised for fall-related head injuries

The rate of head injuries from falls by older Australians has nearly doubled over the past decade, according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Trends in hospitalised injury due to falls in older people 2007–08 to 2016–17, shows that about 125,000 people aged 65 and over were seriously injured due to a fall in 2016–17. Injuries to the head (26%), hip and thigh (22%) were the most common.

‘Falls are common among older people and can result in fractures, head injuries, other serious injuries and even death,’ said spokesperson Professor James Harrison from the AIHW's National Injury Surveillance Unit, based at Flinders University.

Rates of injuries to the head nearly doubled over the 10-year period to 2016–17 for both men and women.

‘In 2016–17, the rates of head injury among men and women were 832 and 865 cases per 100,000 population, respectively, compared with 469 and 477 cases per 100,000 in 2007–08,’ Professor Harrison said.

The magnitude of the rise in fall-related head injuries over the decade to 2017 was greater for those in older age groups.

‘For those aged 85 and over, the increase in the rate of head injury due to falls was estimated to be 6.7% per year,’ Professor Harrison said.

Overall, the rate of fall injury cases among older Australians rose by about 3% for men and 2% for women per year since 2007–08.

Women accounted for most of the hospitalisations for falls, making up 65% of cases. The rate of fall cases was higher for women than for men across all older age groups.

Similar to previous years, a fall on the same level due to slipping, tripping and stumbling (rather than, for example, a fall from furniture or steps) was the most common cause of hospitalised injury. However, falls involving stairs and steps showed the steepest increase year on year.

The report shows 51% of hospitalised falls in 2016–17 occurred in the home, 21% in a residential aged care facility and 13% in other places. The place of occurrence was not specified or not reported for 14% of cases.

‘The estimated incidence rate of hospitalised fall injury among residents of aged care facilities was nearly 6 times as high as the rate estimated for community-dwelling older people,’ Professor Harrison said.

The average length of stay in hospital following a fall was about 10 days in 2016–17.

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