Supreme Court Justice Dies After Breaking Hip In Fall

On March 4, 1999 Justice Harry A. Blackmun died of complications after hip replacement surgery. He underwent the procedure after a fall at his home. Justice Blackmun was 90. The cause of Justice Blackmun's death underscores the seriousness of the consequences of a fall in the elderly and the need to understand why such falls occur and precautions to prevent falls whenever possible.

With age may come wisdom and, all too frequently, a fall. Falls are common causes of serious injuries. One out of every three people over 65 falls every year in the U.S. And that fall may be the last. In 1995, a fall was fatal to nearly 8,000 Americans over 65.

What comes after a fall?

Falls are the most common cause of injuries among senior citizens and the top reason for a hospital admission for trauma. Advanced age substantially increases the likelihood of hospitalization after a fall. Falls account for 87% of all fractures among people aged 65 years or older.

For seniors, fractures are the most serious consequence of falls (short of death). The most common bones to fracture in falls are:

  • The hip, femur (thigh bone), pelvis, and vertebrae (spine);
  • The humerus (upper arm bone), forearm, and hand; and
  • The leg and ankle bones.

Are some fractures more serious than others?

Hip fractures cause the greatest health problems and the greatest number of deaths. Nearly a quarter million hip fractures occur each year among people older than 50 years in the U.S.