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Ruth Bader Ginsburg walking
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
RBG is taking some time off to recover from a fall in which she broke three ribs.
STAND STEADY

Falling is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to older adults

Katherine Ellen Foley
By Katherine Ellen Foley

Health and science reporter

On Nov. 7, Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, fell in her office and broke three ribs. She is now recovering.

For most adults, falling tends to be more damaging to your pride than your body. After age 65, though, falls can be dangerous. In 2014, more than one in four senior adults in the US reported falling, totaling to about 29 million individuals. Over 7 million of them needed medical treatment or time to recover at home, which cost $31 billion in Medicare bills.

In some cases, falling can even be fatal, due to resulting head injuries or complications from bone fractures. Globally, falls are the second-leading cause of accidental death for seniors. The problem seems to be growing, most likely because the population of older adults is growing: in the US, fatalities from falls in older adults have increased at rate of about 3% annually since 2007. US Centers for Disease Control data show that in 2007, about 18,000 people 65 and older died from falls; by 2016, that number was almost 30,000. As the US population continues to age, there could be roughly 59,000 deaths by falls annually by 2030.

As we age, the dangers increase: for ever 100,000 people living in the US in 2016, about 260 people 85 years old or older died from a fall in 2016, compared to 61.6 for those aged 65 to 84.

The changes that occur as the body ages make older adults both more prone to falling, and more likely to be injured as a result. As we age, eyesight and hearing weaken, which can make it harder to avoid hazards. Bones also deteriorate with age, starting around our late 20s and early 30s. Menopause in women, which hits around age 50, can speed up bone deterioration, as can certain medications. Weak, porous bones are more brittle. Although calcium supplement can slow bone deterioration, the best way to protect bones is to build them up as much as possible during childhood, adolescence, and early adult years through exercise.

Justice Ginsberg’s injuries last night will prevent her from attending the inauguration of the newest Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, but her long term recovery prospects are likely much better than the average 85 year old: she has been working out with a trainer for years, and she’s come back from broken ribs before.

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