Preventing Falls in Older Adults
Every year, thousands of older adults fall and hurt themselves. Falls are one of the main causes of injury and loss of independence in people ages 65 and older.
There are many reasons older people fall. They may lose their footing when stepping off a street curb. Or they may fall after getting dizzy from taking medicines. Some falls may be related to the effects of aging, such as muscle weakness or delayed reflexes. Or falls may be related to the results of a stroke.
Experts agree that some falls in older adults can be prevented. But since each person's risks are a bit different, talk to your doctor about which of the tips below might help you.
Take care of yourself
- Keep your bones strong. Talk to your doctor to be sure you are getting enough vitamin D and calcium.
- Have your vision and hearing checked each year or anytime you notice a change. If you have trouble seeing and hearing, you might not be able to avoid objects that make you lose your balance.
- Call your doctor if you have calluses or corns on your feet that need to be removed or if you have sores that are not healing. If you wear loose-fitting shoes because of foot problems, you can lose your balance and fall.
- If you tend to feel lightheaded when you stand up quickly, take the time to get up slowly from your bed or chair. When you wake up, it may help to sit up first and count slowly to 10 before you try to stand up. And after you stand up, stay still for a few seconds before you move.
- If you are very weak or dizzy, don't try to walk around. Instead, see your doctor as soon as possible.
- Call your doctor if you are dizzy and lose your balance. You may have a health problem that needs treatment, such as a blood pressure or inner ear problem. Or you may be having a side effect from a medicine that you take.
- Be sure you are drinking enough water, especially if the weather is hot.
Take extra care if you live alone
- If you live alone, think about wearing an alert device that will bring help in case you fall and can't get up. Or carry a cordless or cell phone with you from room to room. Then you can quickly call for help if you need it.
- Set up a plan to make contact once a day with a family member or friend. Have one person who knows where you are.
- Learn how to get up from a fall. Try this when you have someone with you. If you can get up alone, practice this often enough to feel comfortable. If you can't get up by yourself, see a physical therapist for help.
Learn ways to keep your balance
- Learn to do a few exercises for strength and balance. Practicing these each day can help you stay active and independent.
- Wear low-heeled shoes that fit well and give your feet good support. Use footwear with nonskid soles. Repair or replace worn heels and soles.
- If you use a walker or cane, make sure it is fitted to you. If you use a cane, replace the rubber tip when it becomes worn.
- If you have pets, keep them in one place at night. Train your pets not to jump or get underfoot. Think about buying a collar with a bell for your pet so you will know when your pet is nearby.
Learn about your medicines
- Know the side effects of the medicines that you take. Ask your doctor if the medicines you take can affect your balance. For instance, sleeping pills and some medicines for anxiety can affect your balance.
- If you take two or more medicines, talk to your doctor about how they work together. Sometimes combinations of medicines can cause dizziness or sleepiness. Either of these can lead to a fall.
Make your home safer
- Remove or fix things you could trip over, such as raised doorway thresholds, throw rugs, or loose carpet.
- Keep paths clear of electrical cords and clutter.
- Use nonskid floor wax, and wipe up spills right away.
- Keep your house well lit. Use night-lights (or keep the overhead light on at night) in hallways and bathrooms.
- Put sturdy handrails on stairways. Make sure you have a light at the top and bottom of the stairs.
- Store things on lower shelves so you don't have to climb or reach high.
- Keep a phone and a flashlight by your bed. Check the flashlight batteries often to make sure they still work.
For a complete list of hazards to look for and fix at home, see the checklist for preventing falls .
Stay safe while bathing
- Install grab handles and nonskid mats in the tub and shower.
- Use a shower chair or bath bench. You can also try using a hand-held shower head.
- Get into a tub or shower by putting the weaker leg in first. Get out of a tub or shower with your strong side first.
Prevent outdoor falls
- When you go outdoors, keep your hands free by using a cross-body shoulder bag, a fanny pack, or a backpack.
- If you wear bifocal or trifocal glasses, you may have problems as you step off curbs or climb stairs. See about getting glasses with a single prescription that you can wear when you walk.
- Find out about 24-hour drugstores and grocery stores near you that can take orders over the telephone and make deliveries to your home. Use these services, especially when the weather is bad.
- If you live in an area that gets snow and ice in the winter, have a family member or friend sprinkle salt or sand on slippery steps and sidewalks.
Other Works Consulted
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and American Academy of Pediatrics (2010). Falls and traumatic injuries in the elderly patient. In JF Sarwark, ed., Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, 4th ed., pp. 96–100. Rosemont, IL: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
- Graham P, et al. (2010). The prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. In WR Frontera, ed., DeLisa's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, vol. 1, pp. 979–1014. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Current as of: December 7, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth A. Phelan MD, MS - Geriatric Medicine