Injury secondary to falls is a largely preventable public health problem. The records of 356 patients admitted following a fall to a level I trauma center over a 32-month period were reviewed to determine the epidemiology and to define possible prevention strategies. Falls constituted 9% of total trauma admissions during this time period and had a mortality of 11% (38 of 356). Two hundred ninety-seven falls were accidental, 36 were due to violent criminal behavior, 16 were from suicide attempts, and 7 were from house fires. Sixty-one children under the age of 13 fell; only one died. Falls out of windows accounted for 36% of these falls with over three-quarters of children falling from three stories or less. Elderly patients (age more than 64 years) accounted for only 44 (14%) of falls but over 50% of the deaths. This mortality rate occurred despite the fact that the majority of these falls were from relatively low heights. There were 224 adult falls (ages 18 to 64 years); 36% were occupation-related, and most were by construction workers, roofers, or painters. The remaining adult fall victims had a high rate of unemployment and alcohol and drug use. This study identified several groups where risk factors for falling permit targeted prevention strategies. A large percentage of children who fell were preschool males who fell from windows and this may be related to the lack of window guard legislation in our area. Educational and community service programs should be aimed at the elderly, since most of the falls occurred at home during activities of daily living and resulted in significant mortality. Nonoccupational falls by adults correlated with poor socioeconomic factors such as unemployment and substance abuse which will be difficult to modify.
From the Department of Surgery, UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey.
Presented at the 24th Annual Meeting of the Western Trauma Association, Crested Butte, Colorado, February 26-March 5, 1994.
Address for reprints: Anne C. Mosenthal, MD, Department of Surgery, UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, 185 South Orange Avenue, Newark, NJ 07103.