updated 7/17/2009 10:48:52 AM ET 2009-07-17T14:48:52

During his vacation in the Italian Alps, Pope Benedict XVI, 82, fell and broke his wrist . On Friday, doctors operated to realign the fractured bones. In older adults, falls are the leading cause of deaths caused by injuries.

  1. Don't miss these Health stories
    1. Splash News
      More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?

      Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn't carry a 100 percent guarantee, it's major surgery -- and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.

    2. Larry Page's damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
    3. Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
    4. CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
    5. What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says

How often do older people fall?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an adult aged 65 or over is treated in an U.S. emergency department every 18 seconds — and every 35 minutes an older adult dies as a result of their injuries. One in three older adults falls every year in the United States.

What types of injuries are most common in falls?
The most common fractures are of the spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm and hand.

Who is most at risk?
Men are more likely to die from falls. According to U.S. data, the death rate for older men who had fallen was nearly 50 percent higher than for women. Older age, a prior fall, a stroke, cognitive problems or depression all increase the risk of falls.

How much of a factor is age?
One study found that the rate of being seriously injured from a fall increases significantly with age. People over age 85 were as up to five times more likely to fall as adults aged 65 to 74.

How serious are falls?
Falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries. If older adults break something serious like a hip after a fall, they have a 20 percent chance of dying within a year.

Why are older people more likely to fall?
As people age, they typically have problems with their eyesight, movement and balance. They are also more susceptible to the bone-weakening disease osteoporosis, which makes their bones brittle and easier to break when they do fall.

What can older people do to prevent falls?
Regular exercise can help older people increase their strength and balance. Older people should also have their eyes checked regularly and make sure there is adequate lighting and secure flooring in their homes. They should be extra careful in the kitchen or the bathroom, where the floor may be wet and slippery.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments