Background Falls are the leading cause of injuries in older adults. However, most falls in older adults do not cause serious injury, suggesting that older adults may fall in a manner that reduces the likelihood of impact to body sites that are most vulnerable to injury. In this observational study of falls in long-term care (LTC), we tested whether body parts differed in their probability of impact and injury.Methods We recorded and analyzed videos of 2388 falls by 658 LTC residents (mean age 84.0 (SD = 8.1); 56.4% female). We used Linear Mixed Models to test for differences between body parts in the probability of impact and injury, and injury when impacts occurred.Results Injuries were reported in 38.2% of falls, and 85.9% of injuries involved direct impact to the injured body part. Impact occurred most often to the hip/pelvis (probability (standard error) = 0.95 (0.01); p < .001 relative to other body parts), and least often to the head (0.35 (0.01)). Conversely, injury occurred most often to the head (p < .001 relative to other body parts). The probability of injury when impacts occurred was 0.40 (0.01) for the head, and 0.11 or less for all other body parts.Conclusion Our results help to explain why most falls by older adults in LTC do not cause serious injury: residents land on body parts that are the most resilient to injury. The high susceptibility of the head to injury reinforces the need to enhance upper limb protective responses for fall arrest. The dominant role of direct impact as the mechanism of injury supports approaches to attenuate impact forces through strategies like protective clothing and compliant flooring.
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