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Falls send more than 2 million seniors to emergency departments

Research Activities, November 2009

Hospital emergency departments (EDs) treated more than 2 million seniors for broken bones, head wounds, cuts, and other injuries caused by falls in 2006, costing hospitals about $7 billion for emergency and subsequent inpatient care, according to the latest data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among Americans aged 65 and older. The cost for medical treatment, which is paid mainly by Medicare, is expected to increase as the number of older Americans grows. AHRQ's analysis of hospital ED data for the elderly treated for injuries caused by falls shows that:

  • One in 10 ED visits by seniors was for injuries related to falls. ED visits related to injurious falls increased with age. Indeed, one in ten men and one in seven women over the age of 85 had an ED visit for an injurious fall.
  • Of the seniors who went to the ED due to falls, 41 percent had fractures, primarily of an upper extremity or a hip. Other common injuries resulting from falls included open wounds (21 percent of visits for falls), sprains and strains (10 percent), injuries to internal organs (5 percent), and joint dislocations (1.5 percent).
  • About 63 percent of the patients who had injuries to an internal organ and 51 percent of people with fractures were hospitalized.
  • About 41 percent of patients with fractures and 33 percent of those who sustained internal organ injuries were transferred to a nursing home or other type of long-term care facility.

These findings are based on data in HCUP Statistical Brief #80, Emergency Department Visits for Injurious Falls Among the Elderly, 2006 ( The report uses statistics from the 2006 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (, a new AHRQ database that contains 26 million records from ED visits from approximately 1,000 community hospitals nationwide. This represents 20 percent of all U.S. hospital EDs.

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Page last reviewed November 2009
Internet Citation: Falls send more than 2 million seniors to emergency departments: Research Activities, November 2009. November 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.