Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 81, has been hospitalized after a fall. He has a concussion and “is expected to remain in the hospital for a few days of observation and treatment,” according to a statement that a spokesperson shared with media.
This isn’t the first time McConnell has received medical care for tripping. In 2019, he fractured his shoulder in a spill outside his Kentucky home. And in 2020, he showed up at work with blue hands and a discolored lip; though it’s not clear how this happened, doctors speculated that it was probably bruising, perhaps exacerbated by blood thinners. One good way to get a bruise: a nasty fall.
Falls—they don’t seem like a big deal, but they are. “As our population continues to live longer and longer, falls are becoming the great plague of the modern era,” wrote Jeremy Faust in Slate in 2016, after Leonard Cohen fell—and then died. “They are the leading cause of accidental death in the elderly, and the incidence has increased steadily over the past decade.” A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet warns that the country is on track to experience seven deaths by falling every hour.
As Faust pointed out, research suggests that a third of elderly adults who are admitted to the hospital for a fall die within the year. The mortality figure goes down to 24 percent “for patients who were discharged alive,” the authors of the 2014 study tracking fall survival write. (Caveat that these are the mortality rates from one study, and we don’t have the full picture right now on McConnell, who presumably is receiving just about the best care you can get. Don’t start collecting special-election signatures yet, ambitious Republicans of Kentucky!)
Based on the publically available record of McConnell’s falls, he does not yet qualify as a “recurrent faller” (that would be two or more falls per year). But if he is on blood thinners—as those blue hands in 2020 suggested he might be—he may currently be experiencing more bleeding and bruising than he would otherwise. Anticoagulants may also up your chances of a severe or deadly closed head injury.
McConnell does have one thing working in his favor: being around lots of people can help in the event of a fall. Getting stuck on the ground alone can make the situation much worse.