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Schick, Sylvia; Heinrich, Daniela; Graw, Matthias; Aranda, Raul; Ferrari, Uta; Peldschus, Steffen (2018): Fatal falls in the elderly and the presence of proximal femur fractures. In: International Journal of Legal Medicine, Vol. 132, No. 6: pp. 1699-1712
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Abstract

Fatal falls are frequent and seem to be an increasing problem in the elderly. Especially ground level falls (GLFs) and falls on or from stairs and steps (stairs falls) are worth examining for forensic classification and in order to improve the development of preventive measures. We retrospectively analyzed 261 fatal falls of elderly age 65+ years, which were autopsied at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Munich between 2008 and 2014. After careful screening, the sub-set of all 77 GLFs and 39 stairs falls were analyzed towards socio-demographic characteristics, fall circumstances, injuries, and circumstances of death. A subsequent analysis of GLF cases regarding the presence of proximal femur fractures (PFF) was performed. The injury pattern of the GLFs and the stairs falls clearly differ with a higher share of injuries to the lower extremities in the GLFs. However, the most severely injured body region was the head in both groups (62% of the stairs cases, 49% of the GLF cases). Alcohol as contributing to the fall was seen more frequently in the stairs falls. PFF were not seen in the stairs falls, but then in 18 GLF cases. Yet, for 17 among them (22% of 77), their hip fracture was the only serious injury leading to hospitalization and death. Only one GLF case was already found dead. This finding indicates a potential of avoiding up to 22% of the GLF fatalities by preventing hip fractures by optimized hip protectors or other measures, especially for the elderly aged 75+ years.