American youths with ADHD face elevated risks of serious harm from unintentional falls

In the five years from 2006 through 2010, the child falls led to 11,535 head injuries in the United States, costing a billion dollars to treat. Previous studies have shown that persons with ADHD were more prone to accidental falls than normally developing individuals. Just how strong is that association among American youth?

A team of Stanford University researchers examined data for falls among youths under 18 years old from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS), covering 953 hospitals in 36 states between 2010 and 2015. These included falls from stairs, ladders, or scaffolding; falls from buildings or other structures; falls into holes; other falls from one level to another; falls on the same level from collisions, pushing, shoving, slipping, tripping, or stumbling.

Out of almost 49 million injuries involving youths recorded by hospital emergency departments in the NEDS from 2010 to 2015, there were 13,217,237 million falls, 139,642 of which involved youths 5-17 years old with ADHD only. These were compared with almost 7.8 million involving youths 5-17 years old with developmental disabilities.

The team adjusted for the following covariates to reduce confounding: age category, sex, income, payment source, developmental disability status, and mechanism of fall.

Youths with ADHD were found to be roughly 75% more likely than normally developing youths to be admitted for unintentional falls in hospital emergency departments. They were about 60% more likely to be admitted for hospital stays exceeding two days. They were almost twice as likely to require surgery. And they were four times as likely to require intubation through the mouth and into the airway to be placed on a ventilator to assist with breathing.

These outcomes are not surprising, given that a large proportion of youths with ADHD are prone to be more inattentive and/or impulsive on average than their normally developing peers. But they underscore the need for parents and physicians to take preventive action to reduce the chance of harm.

The authors “suggest that practitioners who provide care for children with ADHD spend extra time on educating parents regarding the increased risk of falls, especially among older children, to decrease the odds of worse outcomes from unintentional falls.”

Quynh-Uyen P. Nguyen, Olga Saynina, Elizabeth A. Pirrotta, Lynne C. Huffman, Nancy Ewen Wang, “A retrospective observational cohort study: Epidemiology and outcomes of pediatric unintentional falls in US emergency departments,” Injury(2021), published online,