PW 1284 Looking ahead at unintentional injury among older adults in the united states: what can we expect for a leading cause of death?

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Abstract

Beginning in 2011, 10 000 people in the United States (US) reach the age of 65 every day and this trend will hold for 20 years. People reaching age 65 today will, on average, live another 19 years. This aging of the Baby Boomer generation has important implications for the nation in a variety of ways, including our ability to prevent one of their leading causes of death, unintentional injury. In 2016 unintentional injury was the 7th leading cause of death among older adults in the US. However, unintentional injury includes an array of injury mechanisms; most notably falls, motor vehicle crashes, drug and non-drug poisoning, fires/burns, suffocation and drowning. While death rates from several of these mechanisms have declined, others have increased. Moreover, declining death rates may not translate into fewer future deaths given the growth in the older adult population.

Comparing 2007 to 2016, annual death rates among adults age 65 and older declined in the areas of motor vehicle crashes (−14%), fires/burns (−40%), and suffocation (−13%), and increased in the areas of falls (+24%), drug (+76%) and non-drug (+23%) poisoning, and drowning (+15%). In spite of declining rates, the number of deaths increased by 12% for motor vehicle crashes (representing 837 more deaths), and 13% for suffocation (422 more deaths).

The magnitude of the growth in the older adult population necessitates attention in areas that may appear to be improving based on death rates alone. Prioritizing prevention strategies should be informed by a combination of metrics. With more older adults in the population and older adults living longer, we need to redouble our efforts to attend to those causes that result in the largest public health burden, such as falls and motor vehicle crashes, and others that are substantially increasing such as poisoning.

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