Preventing Falls in Older Adults

Reducing falls in older adult patients

Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries among adults 65 and older. Each year, more than 3 million seniors go to the emergency department due to fall injuries.

Falls can be a sign of declining health. They can also be the start of a downward spiral leading to a loss of mobility. Many people have personal experiences or they've heard stories about seniors breaking a hip and never regaining independence.

Too often, people become less active after a fall, leading to further muscle weakness and a greater risk of falls in the future. Even the fear of another fall can become a barrier to staying active.

The CDC STEADI program has published fall prevention brochures and downloadable documents written in easy-to-read language. Many focus on three primary risk factors for falls in older adults.

Risks associated with health

  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor balance or dizziness
  • Vision changes
  • Loss of sensation in the feet
  • Some health conditions or medications can increase fall risk. Ask your doctor for a gait study.

Risks within the home

  • Lack of grab bars or proper seating in the shower or tub
  • Tripping or slipping hazards, especially at night
  • Inadequate stair rails

Risks associated with behavior

  • Not understanding physical limitations, especially when using stools or ladders
  • Inactivity
  • Not understanding the side effects or timing of medications

Take steps to prevent falls

Stay active

A daily walk down the block or around the house can improve strength, balance and foot sensations. Even seniors who are less mobile can benefit from chair exercises or moving with a walker or gait belt. Older adults may need motivation and help from a family member. Starting a daily routine of movement can promote a stronger body and mind.

Free risk assessment

Many people don’t realize Medicare covers a fall risk assessment in their annual wellness visit. Older patients may need help from a family member or caregiver to implement the recommendations in a risk assessment.

Sensible footwear

Socks or floppy slippers are a fall waiting to happen, especially during the night when it is dark and seniors may be groggy. Well-fitting shoes or slippers with rubber soles are usually best. If someone shuffles to walk, they’ll need further attention to stay mobile.

Get your home ready

  • Remove rugs when possible.
  • Use bath seats and high-quality non-slip bath mats in bathrooms
  • Install grab bars at the tub, shower and toilet.
  • Improve lighting, especially night lighting
  • Raised toilet seats
  • Two hand rails for stairways

Ask your doctor for a referral to occupational therapy. Many therapists are trained in fall prevention.