Risk Increases With Age
Many people have a friend or relative who has fallen. The person may have slipped while walking or felt dizzy when standing up from a chair and fallen. Maybe you’ve fallen yourself.
If you or an older person you know has fallen, you’re not alone. More than one in three people age 65 years or older falls each year. The risk of falling — and fall-related problems — rises with age.
Falls Lead to Fractures, Trauma
Each year, more than 1.6 million older U.S. adults go to emergency departments for fall-related injuries. Among older adults, falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence, and injury deaths.
Fractures caused by falls can lead to hospital stays and disability. Most often, fall-related fractures are in the person’s hip, pelvis, spine, arm, hand, or ankle.
Hip fractures are one of the most serious types of fall injury. They are a leading cause of injury and loss of independence, among older adults. Most healthy, independent older adults who are hospitalized for a broken hip are able to return home or live on their own after treatment and rehabilitation. Most of those who cannot return to independent living after such injuries had physical or mental disabilities before the fracture. Many of them will need long-term care.
Fear of Falling
Many older adults are afraid of falling. This fear becomes more common as people age, even among those who haven’t fallen. It may lead older people to avoid activities such as walking, shopping, or taking part in social activities.
If you’re worried about falling, talk with your doctor or another health care provider. Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist. Physical therapy can help you improve your balance and walking and help build your walking confidence. Getting rid of your fear of falling can help you to stay active, maintain your physical health, and prevent future falls.
Tell Your Doctor If You Fall
If you fall, be sure to discuss the fall with your doctor, even if you aren’t hurt. Many underlying causes of falls can be treated or corrected. For example, falls can be a sign of a new medical problem that needs attention, such as diabetes or changes in blood pressure, particularly drops in blood pressure on standing up. They can also be a sign of problems with your medications or eyesight that can be corrected. After a fall, your doctor may suggest changes in your medication or your eyewear prescription. He or she may also suggest physical therapy, use of a walking aid, or other steps to help prevent future falls. These steps can also make you more confident in your abilities.
Ways to Prevent Falls
Exercise to improve your balance and strengthen your muscles helps to prevent falls. Not wearing bifocal or multifocal glasses when you walk, especially on stairs, will make you less likely to fall. You can also make your home safer by removing loose rugs, adding handrails to stairs and hallways, and making sure you have adequate lighting in dark areas.
Falls are not an inevitable part of life, even as a person gets older. You can take action to prevent falls. Your doctor or other health care providers can help you decide what changes will help.
Making Personal Changes
Personal Changes Can Make a Difference
Falls and fractures are not an inevitable part of growing older. Many falls result from personal or lifestyle factors that can be changed. Your doctor can assess your risk of falling and suggest ways to prevent falls.
At your next check-up, talk with your doctor about your risk of falling and changes you might make. Also, let your doctor know if you’ve fallen or almost fallen. You might be referred to another health care provider who can help, such as a physical therapist.
Here are some changes you might make.
- Be physically active.
- Have your medicines reviewed.
- Limit alcohol use.
- Have your blood pressure checked when lying and standing.
- Get a vision check-up. Avoid multifocal glasses when walking.
- Choose safe footwear.
(Watch the videos on this page to learn more about making personal changes to prevent falls. To enlarge the videos, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner of the video screen. To reduce the video, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)
Be Physically Active
Regular physical activity is a first line of defense against falls and fractures. Physical activity strengthens muscles and increases flexibility and endurance. Your balance and the way you walk may improve with exercise, decreasing the chances of a fall.
It’s important to keep muscles strong. Strengthening muscles in the lower body can improve balance. Work with your doctor or a physical therapist to plan a physical activity program that is right for you.
A supervised group program can help with balance and gait training. Strength and balance exercises done at home can also reduce your risk of falls. This will help improve your balance and strength.
Tai Chi is one type of exercise that may help prevent falls by improving balance and control. This exercise uses slow, flowing movements to help people relax and coordinate the mind and body. It can also boost your self-confidence. Dancing and other rhythmic movements can help as well.
Mild weight-bearing exercise — such as walking or climbing stairs — may help slow bone loss from osteoporosis. Having strong bones can prevent fractures if you do fall.
Your doctor or a physical therapist can check your walking and balance. They might do a “Get-Up and Go” test. This simple test shows how steady you are when you get up from a chair. The test also is used to check your walking ability.
Have Your Medicines Reviewed
Find out about the possible side effects of medicines you take. Some medications might affect your coordination or balance, or cause dizziness, confusion, or sleepiness. Some medications don’t work well together, adding to your risk of falls.
Bring your prescribed and over-the-counter medicines with you when you visit the doctor. Also bring any vitamins, minerals, and herbal products you are taking.
Your pharmacist can also be helpful in answering your questions about possible side effects from medicines. Ask about how the combination of all your drugs might affect your balance or walking, or your risk of falling. Never stop taking your medications unless you talk with your doctor first.
Limit Alcohol Use
Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Even a small amount can affect your balance and reflexes. In older adults, too much alcohol can lead to balance problems and falls, which can result in hip or arm fractures and other injuries. Older people have thinner bones than younger people, so their bones break more easily. Studies show that the rate of hip fractures in older adults increases with alcohol use.
Have Your Blood Pressure Checked When Lying and Standing
Some older people have normal or increased blood pressure while seated, but their blood pressure drops too much on standing. There is no way to know unless you check. Tell your doctor if you feel faint or unsteady when you get up from sitting or lying down.
Get a Vision Check-Up
Even small changes in sight can make you less stable. Have your vision checked regularly or if you think it has changed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. This person can provide visual devices if you need them and teach you how to use them. He or she can also offer helpful suggestions about the best lighting for you and about not wearing your multi-focals when you walk or use the stairs.
If you are age 60 or older, you should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. If you are at increased risk for or have any age-related eye disease, you may need to see your eye care professional more often.
Wear your eyeglasses so you can see your surroundings clearly. Keep them clean and check to see that the frames are straight. When you get new glasses, be extra cautious while you are getting used to them. If you use reading glasses or multi-focal lenses, take them off when you’re walking. They can distort your sense of distance and lead to a fall.
Choose Safe Footwear
Our feet have nerves that help us judge the position of our bodies. To work correctly, our feet need to be in touch with the ground and our shoes need to stay securely with the foot as we take each step. Otherwise, falls may occur.
It’s important to select your footwear carefully to help prevent falls. Wear sensible, low-heeled shoes that fit well and support your feet. There should be no marks on your feet when you take off your shoes and socks.
Your shoes should completely surround your feet. Wearing only socks or wearing floppy, backless slippers or shoes without backs can be unsafe. Also, choose shoes with non-slip soles. Smooth soles can cause you to slip on waxed or polished floors.