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Falls in Older People


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Jul 2023
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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:

  • Balance problems

  • Problems moving around

  • Problems seeing clearly

  • Problems feeling your feet

  • Medicines that make you sleepy or dizzy

  • Blood pressure or heart problems

  • Confusion

  • Muscle weakness

  • Sickness

Dangers around you that raise the chance of falling:

  • Darkness or dim lighting

  • Slippery floors

  • 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?

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:

How do doctors treat falls?

How can I prevent falls?

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.

Just the Right Height
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