Healthy Aging

Fall PreventionTips for Lowering Your Risk of Falls

Falls are the leading cause of injury in older adults, making prevention critical. Find out why falls happen and how to help prevent them.

Fit older couple talk on the couch

Key Takeaways

  • Falls affect nearly 36 million people in the United States annually.
  • Roughly three million older adults visit the emergency department yearly due to a fall.
  • Falls are the leading cause of injury in older adults.
  • The primary common causes of falls are age-related physiological changes, medication side effects, and environmental hazards.
  • Fall prevention is a combination of strategies that includes personal and situational interventions that help older adults stay safe.
  • Common strategies to prevent falls include having regular health check-ups, using assistive devices as necessary, and knowing possible medication side effects.

The fear of falling is very real among older adults, occurring in 42–73 percent of people who have already fallen. Unfortunately, as we age, our risk of falling increases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 36 million older adults fall annually. While there are many reasons why an older person might fall, from medication side effects to environmental hazards, falls are largely preventable.

“Fear of falling can definitely impact an individual’s self-confidence and self-esteem. This is especially true for seniors who associate their safe mobility with independence,” says Iris Waichler, a clinical social worker and patient advocate in Chicago, Illinois.

Why is fall prevention important?

Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults. Falls can lead to psychological distress, decreased mobility, and a heightened fear of subsequent falls. Additionally, the financial burden associated with fall-related injuries, including medical expenses and rehabilitation costs, can place a considerable strain on older adults and health care resources. According to the CDC, $50 billion is spent annually on medical costs related to older adult falls.

Older adult fall prevention involves mitigating immediate risks and taking a proactive approach to help preserve the autonomy and dignity of older adults.

“Older adults who retain their independence often report higher levels of happiness, satisfaction, and overall mental well-being. They feel more in control of their lives, which can combat feelings of helplessness or depression.” — Ryan Sultan, a psychiatrist and the medical director of Integrative Psych.

What causes falls?

No one factor increases a person’s likelihood of falling. Instead, most falls result from a combination of causes, such as:

  • Certain medications: One of the most common contributors to falls among older adults is the side effects of specific medications. Some that cause side effects like dizziness, drowsiness, or low blood pressure can significantly increase the risk of falls. Common culprits include antidepressants, sedatives, blood pressure drugs, and medications affecting balance and coordination. Regular medication reviews and open communication with health care providers can help reduce this risk.
  • Age-related muscle loss: For most people, the natural aging process results in muscle loss and decreased bone density, compromising strength and stability. This age-related decline in muscle mass can also affect balance and coordination, making older adults more susceptible to falls. A regular exercise routine focusing on strength and balance is key to counteracting these physiological changes.
  • Safety hazards in the environment: Cluttered living spaces, uneven flooring, inadequate lighting, and lack of handrails are common hazards that can lead to trips and falls. Conducting home safety assessments and implementing necessary modifications, such as installing grab bars and removing tripping hazards, are crucial components of fall prevention strategies.
  • Cognitive impairment: Conditions that affect cognitive function, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, increase the risk of falls. Impaired judgment, confusion, and difficulties with spatial awareness contribute to a higher likelihood of falls. Caregiver education and environmental adaptations tailored to the specific needs of people with cognitive impairment are crucial for fall prevention.
  • Conditions affecting balance: Chronic health conditions like diabetes can impact sensory perception and nerve function, affecting balance and increasing the risk of falls. Neurological disorders, inner ear issues, and poor eyesight also play a role in compromising balance. Close monitoring, regular check-ups, and targeted interventions are essential for managing these conditions and minimizing fall risk.
  • Foot problems: Foot-related issues, such as neuropathy, arthritis, and improper footwear, contribute significantly to falls. Reduced foot sensation, pain, or difficulties with proper foot placement can impede mobility and stability. Regular foot assessments, appropriate footwear, and podiatric care are essential in addressing this aspect of fall prevention.
  • Dehydration or malnutrition: Inadequate hydration and poor nutrition can result in weakness, dizziness, and fatigue, heightening fall risk. Maintaining proper hydration and nutrition through regular assessments can enhance overall health and reduce the likelihood of falling.

Fall prevention strategies

Fall prevention strategies should be designed around each unique individual to help reduce the risk of falling and promote independence and safety among older adults. What works for one person may not be ideal for another, and combining various strategies should provide the most protection against falls.

When thinking about fall prevention tips, try to remember that anyone at higher risk should:

  • Stay physically active: Exercise helps muscles stay strong and promotes joint flexibility and cardiovascular health. Physical activity also enhances balance and coordination, crucial elements in preventing falls. Encouraging older adults to participate in activities such as walking, swimming, or tai chi improves physical fitness and boosts confidence in their ability to move safely.
  • Perform balance and strength training exercises: Targeted exercises to improve balance and strength are paramount in fall prevention. Strengthening the lower body muscles, including those in the legs and hips, enhances stability. Balance exercises, such as standing on one leg or walking heel-to-toe, help improve coordination and body awareness. Incorporating these exercises into a regular routine can significantly reduce the risk of falls by improving an individual’s ability to move within their environment safely.
  • Fall-proof the home: Fall prevention involves adapting the home environment to eliminate potential hazards. Simple adjustments, such as removing clutter, securing rugs, and ensuring well-lit pathways, can make a huge difference. Installing handrails in bathrooms and along stairways and using non-slip mats further enhances safety. Regular home safety inspections can help identify and address potential dangers, making the living space more favorable to fall prevention.
  • Have their eyes and hearing tested: Sensory impairments significantly contribute to fall risk, particularly in vision and hearing. Regular eye and hearing exams can help detect issues early on, allowing for timely interventions. Correcting vision problems through prescription eyewear and addressing hearing problems with hearing aids improves environmental awareness and reduces the likelihood of accidents.
  • Know the side effects of medications: Understanding the potential side effects of medications is important to preventing falls. Regular medication reviews with health care providers ensure that any side effects are identified and managed appropriately.
  • Use assistive devices: Assistive devices can enhance mobility and prevent falls. Devices such as canes, walkers, and grab bars provide additional support, especially for individuals with balance or gait issues. Proper fitting and training on using these devices are essential to their effectiveness. Another helpful tool is a medical alert system. While these devices can’t prevent falls, they can serve as a safeguard if you or your care recipient fall. These systems connect directly to a 24/7 monitoring center to send help during an emergency. Some systems have fall detection, which automatically calls the center if triggered by a fall. Incorporating assistive devices into daily life empowers older adults to maintain their independence while helping to minimize fall risk.
  • Have regular health check-ups. Routine physical, mental, and cognitive health assessments are indispensable in fall prevention. Identifying underlying health conditions or changes in health status allows for timely interventions. Health care providers can conduct comprehensive assessments to evaluate factors such as muscle strength, balance, and overall mobility, providing a foundation for personalized fall prevention strategies.

Our final verdict

Falls jeopardize physical health and impact older adults’ emotional well-being and quality of life. Addressing the multifaceted causes of falls, from medication side effects to environmental hazards, is essential to help prevent falls. Falls can be successfully prevented using several strategies, such as staying physically active, having regular health check-ups, and using assistive devices as necessary. It’s important to understand that falling is not a normal part of aging, and fall prevention strategies can help you or your care recipient stay safe, healthy, and independent.

Last updated or reviewed on May 14, 2024