Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link

Prevention in Older Adults


Magda Lenartowicz

, MD, Altais Health Solutions

Reviewed/Revised May 2023

The goals of prevention in an older adult usually depend on the person’s health, level of function, and risk profile, as for the following:

  • Healthy, independent people with no serious disorders: Mainly preventing disorders from developing

  • People who have several mild chronic disorders and who remain independent: Mainly preventing or slowing the decline in function and avoiding the physical deterioration that can make them increasingly dependent on others

  • Frail people who have several advanced chronic diseases and who have become mostly dependent on others: Mainly preventing accidents and complications that could cause further loss of independence or death


Exercise Exercise in Older Adults Most people over age 65 do not exercise at recommended levels despite the known health benefits of exercise including Longer survival Improved quality of life (for example, endurance, strength... read more , including aerobic exercise, is still important. Weight lifting helps protect against muscle weakness, age-related loss of muscle tissue, and osteoporosis Osteoporosis Osteoporosis is a condition in which a decrease in the density of bones weakens the bones, making breaks (fractures) likely. Aging, estrogen deficiency, low vitamin D or calcium intake, and... read more Osteoporosis by strengthening muscles and increasing bone density. Aerobic exercise increases endurance and may slightly lower the risk of some heart and blood vessel disorders. Increasing muscle strength and aerobic conditioning can help improve functioning and may lead to a longer life. In older adults, dancing and tai chi, which can be enjoyable forms of exercise, may have additional benefits, such as enhancing balance and thus helping to prevent falls.

Alcohol is metabolized differently in older adults. Older adults who drink alcohol need to be aware that more than one drink per day may increase their risk of injuries and other health problems.

Medications and vaccines

Understanding what medications may do is particularly important for older adults because they are more susceptible to the side effects of medications. Factors that can increase susceptibility include age-related differences in how the body processes (metabolizes) and uses many medications. These differences can lead to interactions between medications or between medications and foods. These interactions may not occur in younger people.

A primary care doctor, nurse practitioner, and pharmacist can provide information about all prescription and nonprescription medications. Knowing the brand and generic name of all medications taken, each medication’s purpose, the length of time each medication is to be taken, and the activities, foods, drinks, and other medications to be avoided while taking a medication can help older adults avoid problems. Older adults should bring all of their medications, both prescription and nonprescription, to their doctor appointments so that these medications can be reviewed with their doctor.

These vaccines are important because older adults are more susceptible to pneumonia, tetanus, and shingles and because influenza is more likely to lead to pneumonia and other severe problems in older adults.

Injury prevention

The same simple, common-sense safety measures that prevent injuries in younger adults are also useful for older adults (see sidebar ). Preventing falls is especially important.

Falls Falls in Older Adults are a leading cause of serious health problems in older adults. The following can help prevent falls:

  • Cleaning up cluttered areas in the home

  • Removing or securing throw rugs, edges of carpet, and uncovered phone and electrical cords to the floor

  • Making sure lighting is adequate

  • Adding handrails, grab bars, and traction or nonskid surfaces (such as strips or nonslip bathmats) to stairways and bathtubs as needed

  • Installing handrails near the toilet and in the tub and shower

  • Not using slippery bath oils

  • Talking with the doctor about stopping any unnecessary medications and making sure the lowest effective dose of needed medications is being used

  • Preserving or improving balance (for example, through exercise, dance, or tai chi)


Older adults may have to limit or give up driving The Older Driver Driving provides older people freedom, independence, and key social interactions with their community that many people take for granted in their youth. But the privilege of driving is based... read more if their vision, reflexes, or overall function is poor. They should not drive when they are taking medications or other drugs that cause drowsiness, and they should not drive at night if their night vision is poor.

quiz link

Test your knowledge

Take a Quiz!