Many older people fear falling and with good reason. Falls are common—at least 1 in 3 older people falls once a year. Falls can lead to serious injury.
A person who has fallen once is more likely to fall again
Falls aren't a normal part of aging
Falls are a leading cause of accidental death
Falls usually happen when you’re moving, such as when you're getting out of bed or rushing to the phone
Some falls can be prevented by staying fit and taking actions to make your home safer
What causes falls in older people?
Many falls are caused by physical problems or by dangers in the home.
Physical problems that raise the chance of falling:
Problems moving around
Problems seeing clearly
Problems feeling your feet
Medicines that make you sleepy or dizzy
Blood pressure or heart problems
Dangers around you that raise the chance of falling:
Darkness or dim lighting
Electrical or extension cords or objects that are in the way of walking
Clutter on the stairs or floor
Uneven sidewalks and broken curbs
Being in a place you don't know well
What injuries are most common from a fall?
Falls can cause:
Broken bones, especially a broken hip, because older people often have weak bones (osteoporosis Osteoporosis Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens your bones. Your bones become thinner and more fragile. This is called a loss of bone density. If you have osteoporosis, your bones break more easily... read more )
Bruises, strains, or sprains
If you fall while alone and have to stay on the floor for a long time, you may develop problems like:
Dehydration (when there isn't enough water in your body)
What will happen at my doctor's visit?
Doctors will ask you what happened and whether you had any symptoms before the fall (like dizziness or chest pain). They'll ask about your medicines and whether you’ve been drinking alcohol.
Doctors will do a physical exam to look for injuries and figure out why you fell. They'll look at your:
Blood pressure—if your blood pressure goes down when you stand up, your fall may have been caused by dizziness or light-headedness Dizziness or Light-Headedness When Standing Up In some people, particularly older people, blood pressure drops excessively when they sit or stand up (a condition called orthostatic or postural hypotension). Symptoms of faintness, light-headedness... read more
Your heart to see if you have problems with your heartbeat, abnormal heartbeat pattern, or heart failure Heart Failure Your heart pumps blood to carry oxygen and nutrients to the rest of your body. Heart failure is when your heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. It doesn’t mean your heart has stopped... read more
Eyes and vision
Ability to balance and move easily and smoothly
How do doctors treat falls?
Treat injuries from your fall
Treat any problems that might have caused you to fall
Help you make a plan to avoid future falls
Refer you to physical Physical Therapy (PT) Physical therapy, a component of rehabilitation, involves exercising and manipulating the body with an emphasis on the back, upper arms, and legs. It can improve joint and muscle function, helping... read more or occupational therapy Occupational Therapy (OT) Occupational therapy, a component of rehabilitation, is intended to enhance a person's ability to do basic self-care activities, useful work, and leisure activities. These activities include... read more , if needed
The effects of a fall can last a long time. For example, if you break your hip, you may not be able to walk well even after treatment and rehabilitation Overview of Rehabilitation Rehabilitation services are needed by people who have lost the ability to function normally or have pain. Loss of function may be due to fracture, amputation, stroke or another neurologic disorder... read more .
Fear of falling can also lead to problems like less activity and joint stiffness Joint Stiffness Joints are places in your body where two bones come together, such as your wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles. Joints also exist where you might not think. For example, there... read more .
How can I prevent falls?
Get regular exercise—weight training, balancing, and stretching exercises are helpful
Wear shoes with nonslip soles
Stand up slowly after sitting or lying to avoid getting dizzy
Have your doctor show you the if you have problems with vertigo (dizziness)
Talk with your doctor about the medicines you take to see if any of them raise the chance of falling
Have your vision checked and get new glasses if you need them, and have glaucoma Glaucoma Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes vision loss. It usually happens when pressure from extra fluid within your eyeball damages the nerve in your eye (optic nerve). Vision loss usually happens... read more or cataracts Cataract A cataract is when the lens of your eye slowly gets cloudy. This does not hurt, but it causes your vision to get worse over time. This image shows a large cataract in the right eye (left on... read more treated
Work with a physical therapist, especially if you use a walker or cane, so you know how to use it safely
Make your home safer:
Have good lighting
Add light switches that are easy to reach or on a motion sensor
Add lighting to inside and outside steps
Put nonskid strips and sturdy handrails on stairs
Add more electrical outlets or securely fasten extension cords over doorways (or under carpet) so you won’t trip on them
Keep floors and stairs free of clutter
Put grab bars in the bathroom by the toilet and bathtub
Install an elevated toilet seat
Tape down loose throw rugs (or get rid of them)
Put nonslip mats in your bath and kitchen
Put frequently used household items in places where you won’t have to stretch or bend to reach them
If you fall and can’t get up, turn onto your belly and crawl to a piece of furniture, and use it to pull up. Keep a telephone somewhere you can reach from the floor or wear a medical alert device.
Just the Right Height
For people who are recovering from a leg injury or surgery, using a cane that is the correct height is important. A cane that is too long or too short can cause low back pain, poor posture, and instability. The cane should be held on the side opposite of an injured leg.