Falls and Risk of Falling have Greater Impact on Older Adults' Quality of Life than Diabetes, Hypertension and Other Chronic Conditions, According to New Survey

August 02, 2011
  • People 65 and over with a history or risk of falling are encouraged to consult with their doctors to learn more about their treatment options
  • UnitedHealthcare survey appears in August Issue of Journal of Gerontological Nursing

The risk of falling increases with age and can become a significant burden for adults, affecting their quality of life physically and emotionally, according to a new survey by UnitedHealthcare, in consultation with AARP Services, Inc.

The survey, “The Burden of Falling on the Quality of Life Among Adults with Medicare Supplement Insurance,” assessed 15,000 individuals at least 65 years of age who are enrolled in AARP® Medicare Supplement plans insured by UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company in ten states (for New York residents, UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company of New York). The survey will be published in the August issue of Journal of Gerontological Nursing.

Of the 5,875 survey respondents, 21 percent fell in the last year, while another 17 percent reported balance or walking problems that put them at risk of falling. According to the survey findings, falling or risk of falling had a significant impact on their well-being and quality of life. The survey helped to quantify respondents’ average physical component and mental component scores, measures commonly used to evaluate health-related quality of life. As a result, researchers found that falling and being at risk of falling had a stronger influence on quality of life than many common chronic health conditions (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and respiratory conditions), from both a physical and mental health standpoint.

The survey also found that some of the strongest predictors of falling or being at risk of falling included advancing age, female gender, and various comorbid conditions such as stroke, sciatica, arthritis and hearing problems. Lastly, vision and hearing problems were associated with decreased quality of life among those who fell or were at risk of falling, an indication that these conditions, like the aging process, are complex and interrelated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are particularly common in adults 65 years of age and over, with 30 to 45 percent of adults in this age group experiencing a fall each year. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in this age group.

“The burden of falling can be severely debilitating and is generally thought of as a physical disability. It is clear from this survey, however, that falling and being at risk of falling also affects quality of life mentally and socially, as well as physically,” said Dr. Richard J. Migliori, executive vice president of Health Services at UnitedHealth Group. “We believe this survey should alert clinicians, their patients and families of the potential negative impact that falling and being at risk of falling can have on older adults’ quality of life.”

“This survey highlights the fact that more research is warranted to better understand which aspects of falls prevention and intervention programs can improve physical functioning, such as improving balance and walking problems, while contributing to enhancing seniors’ quality of life,” said Dr. Charlotte S. Yeh, chief medical officer at AARP Services, Inc., AARP’s wholly owned, taxable subsidiary. “We encourage people 65 and over with a history of falling or being at risk of falling to consult with their doctors and learn more about what options are available.”

This survey is part of the geriatric syndrome initiative designed to better understand the challenges associated with getting older.

Data for this survey were obtained from the Health Update Survey (HUS), which contains questions on demographics, other health conditions, and the Veterans RAND 12 item health status survey. The mail survey was fielded on a random sample of 15,000 insureds from 10 states in 2008. Respondents were divided into those who fell, those at risk of falling, and others, based on their response to a question about falls and walking or balance problems during the last twelve months. Univariate and multivariate analyses were conducted to estimate the likelihood of falls or risk of falling and its impact on quality of life while controlling for respondent demographics and other health conditions.

About AARP Services Inc.
AARP Services, Inc., founded in 1999, is a wholly-owned taxable subsidiary of AARP. AARP Services manages the provider relationships for and performs quality control oversight of the wide range of products and services that carry the AARP name and are made available by independent providers as benefits to AARP’s millions of members. The provider offers currently span health products, financial products, travel and leisure products, and life event services. Specific products include Medicare supplemental insurance; credit cards, auto and home, mobile home and motorcycle insurance, life insurance and annuities; member discounts on rental cars, cruises, vacation packages and lodging; special offers on technology and gifts; pharmacy services; legal services; and long-term care insurance. AARP Services also engages in new product development activities for AARP and provides certain consulting services to outside companies. In 2005, AARP Services founded AARP Financial Inc., a wholly-owned taxable subsidiary that provides access to proprietary investment products and services, including mutual funds and financial guidance, designed to meet the needs of investors at any life stage.

About UnitedHealthcare
UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 650,000 physicians and care professionals and 5,000 hospitals nationwide. UnitedHealthcare serves more than 37 million people and is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company. 

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