Older Adults

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Older Adults: Preventing Falls

Every year, millions of older adults fall, leading to injuries and emergency room visits. Many of these falls and injuries can be prevented. Most falls happen at home. Taking certain safety measures can prevent many falls.

Facts about falls

Here are some facts about older adults and falls: 

  • Older adults fall because of tripping.

  • Falls are the most common cause of injury visits to the emergency room for older adults.

  • Falls cause more open wounds, fractures, and brain injuries than any other cause.

  • Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths in people older than 65.

Reducing the risk of falling

As you age, your risk of falling becomes greater. This is because of changes in vision and balance, along with other medical and physical conditions. Most people also lose bone density as they age, so the risk of broken bones from falls is a greater concern. Older adults can take steps to lower the risk of falling. Here are some ideas:

  • Have your vision and hearing checked regularly. Get your glasses updated when needed. And be sure to wear them.

  • Know the side effects of medicines you are taking. Some may lead to loss of balance and coordination.

  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.

  • Wear rubber-soled and low-heeled shoes that fit correctly and support your feet. Don’t wear loose-fitting slippers that could cause you to trip.

  • Don't go barefoot inside or outside of your home. Always wear shoes.

  • Be careful on wet or icy sidewalks.

  • Exercise daily to stay flexible and keep your bones strong.

Preventing falls at home

Take safety measures at home to reduce your risk of falling as you get older. Take these steps:

  • Remove small rugs or use double-sided tape under small rugs to prevent slipping.

  • Keep clutter to a minimum. Remove things from walking areas that you could trip over.

  • Keep the temperature in your home at a comfortable level. This will keep you from becoming too dizzy from extreme cold or heat.

  • Keep items used often within reach, so you don't have to rely on a step stool or ladder.

  • Install handle bars next to toilets and bathtubs or showers.

  • Use nonslip mats in bathtubs and showers.

  • Improve the lighting in your home and outside. Use nightlights in the bedroom and hallways.

  • Remove electrical cords from the floor in walking areas.

  • Install handrails and lights on all staircases.

  • Don't drink liquids too close to bedtime. Getting up to go to the bathroom at night is a leading cause of falls.

Balance and falls in older adults

Having good balance means you’re able to control your body’s position. Many things can cause problems with balance.

Medicines

Some medicines can cause problems with balance. For example, medicines that lower blood pressure can make you feel dizzy. Talk with your healthcare provider if you notice a balance problem while taking a medicine. They may be able to prescribe a smaller dose or change your medicine. If you are started on a new medicine, ask your provider if it can affect your balance.

Balance disorders

A balance disorder can be caused by different conditions. It may be due to a problem of the inner ear. Or it can happen with a stroke, low blood pressure, or head injury. When you have a balance disorder, you may feel unsteady or like you’re moving or spinning.

Common balance disorders when the inner ear is affected include:   

  • Vertigo. This creates the feeling that you or the things around you are spinning.

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. This is a condition that makes you have a brief, intense feeling of vertigo when you move your head. This can happen when rolling over in bed or looking up.

  • Labyrinthitis. This is an infection or inflammation of the inner ear that causes dizziness.

  • Ménière disease. This is a disorder that causes a person to have vertigo. You may also have hearing loss that comes and goes, a ringing or roaring in your ears, or a feeling of fullness in the ear.

When to call your healthcare provider

See your healthcare provider if you:

  • Feel unsteady

  • Feel as if the room is spinning around you

  • Feel as if you’re moving when standing still

  • Lose your balance

  • Have falls

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2020
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